Chapter eight: Moscow

Submitted by Noa Rodman on February 23, 2017

Chapter Eight: Moscow


The Soviet Government transferred to Moscow immediately after the Seventh Party Congress, and it was there that the Fourth Congress of Soviets was held from 14 to 16 March 1918. The agenda included the ratification of the treaty, the transfer of the capital to Moscow and the election of a new CEC.

The Bolshevik faction met on the day before the Congress opened, to hear Lenin's report on the Brest-Litovsk treaty. A motion to approve ratification was easily carried, despite Left Communist' opposition to Lenin's line. They had not abandoned their anti-Party activities, although they had lost the remnants of their support during their defeat at the Seventh Party Congress. It was becoming increasingly obvious that those who refused to submit to discipline were no more than a band of schismatics out to damage the Party.

Sverdlov opened the Congress. Lenin spoke on the vital issue of ratification, and his motion in favour was carried by a large majority, which clearly showed that the Congress disapproved of the Menshevik, SR and Left Communist' attempts to block it.

Lenin's resolution on the transfer of the capital was also passed, and the Congress elected a new CEC with 200 members: 140 were Bolsheviks, 48 Left SRs and the rest Mensheviks, Right SRs and anarchists. Among the Bolsheviks elected to the CEC Presidium were Sverdlov, Varlam Avanesov, Mikhail Pokrovsky and Mikhail Vladimirsky.

The job of helping to re-establish the Party staff in Moscow and settle the Secretariat into its new premises fell to me; at the end of March the Central Committee appointed me aide to the Secretary of the Central Committee.

Sverdlov had not abandoned his direct involvement with the Secretariat, but he went to the Secretariat offices once or twice a week at most, usually in the evenings, so that I had to go to the CEC offices to see him. He was always available there to discuss either state or Party business.

On the most important issues I would sometimes apply straight to Lenin, receiving the instructions I needed immediately over the phone. But more often it was Sverdlov who consulted Lenin on the matters requiring his attention.

Once settled in Moscow, Sverdlov and all the others worked unbelievably hard, without a thought for themselves or their health. Sverdlov would often bring work home and keep at it until three or four in the morning. He still studied at night too, for 30 minutes or an hour if he was very busy, or longer if he could.

The more tasks he was given to do, the more responsibilities he took on, the greater grew his dedication to his work. He found total fulfilment in the intense activity, the complex issues which faced him, although at times he found the work terribly tiring. But he remained a sensitive and attentive comrade and friend, a joy to work with and unfailingly approachable, no matter how overloaded he was.

Everything he did came out well, largely due to his ability to organise himself and others and to work almost round the clock, with very little sleep. He planned his working day to the last detail. Strictly adhering to the principle he had adopted while working in the underground, he never laid any document aside until the next day, never postponed any decision. He directed all his energies to finishing every task before proceeding to something else, which he did without so much as a moment's pause.

Lidia Fotieva, secretary to the Sovnarkom, told me: After Lenin was wounded, I often had to give Sverdlov the papers addressed to Lenin or the Sovnarkom. I was struck by his extraordinary ability to grasp any question immediately, however complicated or involved, and get the gist of any document. It needed only a word or two before he went straight to the heart of the matter and made a rapid and confident decision. He never left any problem unresolved and never held on to any paper without good cause. This remarkable ability so distinguished him from his colleagues that 1 have not forgotten it to this day.'

Sverdlov had a high regard for other peoples' opinions: he had regular consultations with the CC, the people's commissars, leading members of the Party and the Soviets, rank-and-file Party activists and non-Party workers and peasants. He never forced his opinions on anyone, but tried to prove himself right. A typical case is the exchange he had with the leadership of the Nizhni Novgorod Provincial Party Committee and its Executive Committee, which had, in Sverdlov's view, wrongly dismissed a Party official from a responsible post. Receiving the reply that if he insisted they could reverse their decision, Sverdlov sent them a telegram which read: Not my place to insist on reversal of Committee's decision, can only advise.' His instructions were always extremely precise, clear and comprehensive, and he made a point of seeing how they were carried out. He could be relentlessly demanding when the need arose, but he never demanded more than one could give. He did not cavil or harass and, although he did not take errors lightly, he pointed them out as one comrade to another, in a way that was neither insulting nor humiliating.

Every day he discussed with Lenin the more serious matters that came within his competence as Chairman of the CEC and head of the Secretariat. All issues of a political nature he took to the Central Committee, believing that the correct decisions could only be reached through group discussion.

He would not allow rudeness, conceit or tactlessness from anyone, no matter how highly they were placed, and his tact, his unfailing respect for the opinions of others and his determination when carrying out Central Committee decisions created an efficient but relaxed atmosphere around him, whatever the job in hand.

In those early days of Soviet power, the need to overcome the desperate resistance put up by the White Guards, the Mensheviks and the SRs and to end the intense conflict within the Party demanded constant vigilance from every Bolshevik. Sverdlov, though ruthless towards the enemies of the revolution, was deeply disturbed by those who were suspicious rather than vigilant especially if they were our people, part of the great united family of Bolsheviks.


In the second half of March, two weeks after the transfer to Moscow, Sverdlov left for Nizhni Novgorod to deliver a report on the Seventh Party Congress to a meeting of the Party nucleus and to speak on the development of the Party and the Soviets at a joint meeting of the Provincial Party Committee and the Presidia of the Provincial and Town Executive Committees. When he returned to Moscow he brought the children, who had been living all this time with their grandfather, back with him. Our family was united again at last.

Sverdlov and I had been together for 12 years before the revolution. Except for the two years of exile in Turukhansk, they had been years of rootlessness, of unremitting persecution, when our few days of underground freedom were followed by years apart in prison and exile. It was a life of arrest, prison, convoy, exile, time and again. Only after the revolution could we begin to live within the law, without fear of the authorities.

But, though our family was united, Sverdlov's heavy work-load allowed him to come home for only a few hours every day. When he could snatch an occasional Sunday to stay at home and rest, he spent as much of that time as he could with the children. He was not too busy to watch them grow, to watch their characters and intellects developing.

The mornings belonged to them. If Sverdlov was not too tired, he would get up a little earlier than he had to and take them into our 112 bedroom, where there was a deep-pile carpet–and they got up to all sorts of things on that carpetl Sverdlov would go down on his hands and knees and the children would ride him round the room, or he would wrestle with Andrei while the flat rang with warlike shouts and loud laughter.

Sverdlov was wonderful with the children, the soul of tact. He never raised his voice, he spoke to them as equals, but his authority was absolute. They were quick and willing to do anything he asked and listened carefully when he had to scold them. His conversations with them were always completely serious, with no baby talk or childish expressions, but, because he could hit on the right words and tone of voice, they understood each other perfectly, although Andrei was only seven and Vera five.

I recall a particularly amusing incident from the days of our exile in Turukhansk. Andrei sometimes teased his sister and frightened her, sometimes making her cry. We both tried to impress on him that this was no way to behave, but he would remember for a few days and then begin again.

One day he started to assure her, with a completely straight face, that there was a horrible old man with a sack just outside who was coming to take her away; Vera was on the brink of tears. Sverdlov, hearing this converstaion from next door, quickly went into the room and fell on his hands and knees. His hair on end and his beard bristling, he descended on Andrei with such a fearsome snarl that the lad began to howl in earnest. Sverdlov stood up, straightened his hair and said in a normal tone:

'What is it, old fellow, are you scared? Don't you like it? Well, Vera doesn't like it when you frighten her. So I'll make you a deal– if you don't frighten her, I won't frighten you.'

As a matter of principle he firmly checked any signs of shiftlessness and developed their self-reliance and respect for work. He insisted they make their own beds, keep their room clean and tidy, and their toys and other things in order. He could be indescribably withering if Andrei, for example, asked someone to sew a button back on for him. Yet he never asked too much of them so as not to discourage their urge to be independent.

He explained to them the nature of the bourgeoisie, the faults of the tsar, the reasons for the proletarian revolution, and the Bolshevik character, and they understood, because he spoke in a simple and intelligible way. When Andrei was seven, one of his friends jokingly called him an anarchist. Andrei began to cry and replied through his sobs: 'Liar! Liar! I'm a Bolshevik like Papa!'

And I recall another conversation between Sverdlov and Andrei on that dreadful day in January 1919 when we heard that Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg had been brutally murdered. The children knew Liebknecht's name, for we often talked about him at home. Sverdlov and I were going out to a meeting to pay our last respects when Andrei suddenly went up to his father, pressed his cheek against his hand in a strangely timid way and, looking up at him, asked: 'Papa, Liebknecht was a revolutionary, a Bolshevik, wasn't he?' 'Yes, a true revolutionary.'
'And the bourgeoisie killed him, didn't they?'
`The bourgeoisie, of course.'
'But Papa, you're a revolutionary too. So could the bourgeoisie kill you?'
Sverdlov looked intently at Andrei, tousled his hair tenderly and said, in a serious and calm tone: Yes, son, of course they could, but don't let that scare you. When I die I'll leave you the best inheritance there is–a spotless reputation and the name of a revolutionary.'

After the revolution and the move to Moscow Sverdlov was able to see his father, brothers and sisters again. His father came to visit us from Nizhni Novgorod once in a while. His sisters, and his brother Veniamin, who worked in the People's Commissariat of Railways, lived in Moscow. When we were all together it was one big happy family.

One of our regular guests was Sverdlov's half-brother, German, a bright and witty 13-year-old, the child of his father's second marriage, who had been born after Sverdlov left home, and whom he hardly knew. But now that circumstances permitted he often came to stay. He had an inborn, inexhaustible sense of humour, and his descriptions of the most commonplace events would leave everyone weak with laughter. And he simply brought the house down when he read the familiar old Russian folk tales aloud, with his own asides. If Sverdlov was in the house at the time he would laugh as infectiously and as heartily as any of the children. Only the narrator retained his dignity.

Not long after the children came, we moved to a spacious fourroomed flat in that part of the Great Kremlin Palace that had been called the children's quarters, and Sverdlov asked for the two adjacent rooms to be made into guest rooms. Many of his old friends who came to Moscow on business went straight to see him and we put them up. Indeed, it would be easier to say who did not come to stay at one stage or other. Filipp Goloshchekin, Secretary of the Ural Regional Party Committee in 1918, came often, as did Market Sergushev, Secretary of the Nizhni Novgorod Provincial Committee, Boris Kraevsky, a Front Commander, Markusha Minkin, Chairman of the Penza Provincial Executive Committee, Vanya Chugurin, Artyom (Sergeev), Tolmachyov... People's commissars and political workers from the Civil War front lines, Bolshevik underground workers from the areas under German occupation and the regions in the grip of the White Guards, and members of the Party and Soviets from Central Russia, the Urals and around the Volga. Several of them were Sverdlov's former comrades-in-arms from Sormovo and the Urals, from Narymsk, Kolpashevo, Turukhansk and Petrograd, but some of them were recent acquaintances. He took a lively interest in everyone he met; he wanted to get inside them, know what they were thinking and feeling, their strong and weak points. He found that in the official setting of his office people were often inhibited, and he did not like that at all. He would induce his visitor to wait and bring him home as soon as he was free; they would have their talk, and the visitor would, of course, stay the night. Our guest rooms were never empty.

Our life in Moscow went at the same headlong, zestful pace as in Petrograd. The victory of the revolution, the palpable successes in reconstructing society, in creating a new life, filled our hearts to overflowing with joy. We were witnessing the realisation of all our plans, all that we Bolsheviks had lived and struggled for. The foundations of a new communist society had been laid, and whatever difficulties lay ahead of us, it was wonderful to know that the revolution would prevail, that we were progressing, that with our very first steps we were heading unfalteringly towards Communism.

But life was not easy: the people had inherited too heavy a burden from the old regime. Everything was in short supply; we had to scrimp all the time. Yet the Bolsheviks always put themselves and their own comfort last; the workers of Russia had entrusted us with power precisely because they saw in us the fullest expression of their interests, their innermost hopes. Although we were the vanguard of the working class, we were, more importantly, part of it, living and working alongside the workers and peasants–not using the power that the people had granted us to our own selfish ends. Indeed, the thousands of Bolsheviks in all areas of society who had dedicated their lives to their fight for the people, were hardly likely to give in to those among us who developed a self-indulgent taste for luxury. We were extremely scrupulous about every aspect of our private lives. Take Alexander Tsyurupa, People's Commissar for Food Supplies, for example–with the resources of the entire country at his disposal, he was often weak from lack of food, and he would have died but for Lenin, who intervened and practically forced him to rest and improve his diet.

One night early in the summer of 1918 Sverdlov came home looking troubled.

''You know,' he said, Nikolai Podvoisky came to see me today. Only just arrived, they're sending him off to deal with the Czechoslovak mutiny. 1 You know what an uncommonly cheerful, optimistic, energetic sort he is–a really fine fellow–well, something was wrong. He was nervy and worried but never said a word. Avanesov and I got together, decided to find out discreetly what had got into him. We went hard at it, and it finally turned out that his wife and three girls are in Czech hands. She was taking some Petrograd children to Ufa. the Czechs attacked and captured her. No one knows where the girls are.'

I knew Podvoisky well, and has several times met his wife, Nina, an unfailingly reserved, calm, remarkably self-effacing Bolshevik. She had been secretary of the Petrograd Committee in 1917. I knew how fond Podvoisky was of his family, how devoted he was to his children, and when I heard the dreadful news I cast around in my mind, wondering how I could help.

But Sverdlov had already thought it over and had commissioned one of our comrades who was going to Ufa to do everything he could to get Nina out of the clutches of the White Czechs.

She was in Ufa prison and her daughters, the eldest of whom was only ten, had been taken in by a friend. Empowered by Sverdlov, our comrade either exchanged Nina for one of their officers who had been caught by our side or arranged her escape, and helped her to get out of Ufa with the children.

She crossed the front line near the town of Balashov. Podvoisky was already there, and they met in the street quite by accident. It is not hard to imagine how he felt: he had thought they were dead. He never knew the part Sverdlov had played in the rescue.

I also remember an incident in autumn 1918 which concerned Felix Dzerzhinsky. One evening Sverdlov suggested that we go and visit him.

`I'm worried–he's been looking absolutely rotten recently, never goes home, works day by the length. He's not well and won't see a doctor. Let's go and find out how he is.'

We went to the Cheka 2 offices in the Lubyanka; the guard saw Sverdlov's pass and let us in immediately. As we went along the endless corridors many of the office workers greeted Sverdlov and several stopped to talk to him. He was a frequent visitor, who took a real interest in their work, and, of course, had known many of them before, for the Party had assigned its best people to the Cheka.

Dzerzhinsky was working in his office. On his desk there was a glass, half-filled with some cloudy grey liquid, and a small piece of black bread. Part of the chilly office was screened off. When Dzerzhinsky saw us, he got up with a delighted smile; he and Sverdlov were intimate friends. We sat down and, happening to glance behind the screen, I saw a bed covered with a simple military blanket. An overcoat was tossed carelessly over it and the pillow was rumpled. It was clear that Dzerzhinsky was not sleeping as he should; he probably only lay down for a while fully dressed.

When we left, after about an hour, Sverdlov was thoughtful and remote. We walked in silence until finally he said: He's in a bad way, burning himself up. He's not sleeping properly, his food's revolting. He needs help–he needs his family. I'll have to do something, see Lenin about it...'

Like hundreds of other Bolsheviks, Dzerzhinsky had spent the years before the revolution doing the rounds of prison and exile. His wife Sofya had also spent a lot of time behind bars; their son Yasik had been born in prison. When the revolution came, Sofya and the boy were in Switzerland and Dzerzhinsky had not seen them since.

`We'll simply have to get his family out of there. He's got no one else and he's miserable. With the family back, home will be home again and he'll go there at least occasionally and relax. Otherwise he's finished.'

Sverdlov did not rest until Dzerzhinsky went abroad. Before long Sofya and the boy were back in Moscow.

Sverdlov often visited the Moscow Soviet and the district Soviets, to see himself how visitors were treated, how quickly and vigorously the officials acted on the requests and complaints of the working people.

One evening at nine he invited me to go with him to the Moscow City Soviet, which would still be in session despite the late hour. Sverdlov began with the callers in the reception room. He sat next to an old worker and struck up a conversation, asking what had brought him there, and then, in his unaffected and friendly way, he spoke to the others. He did not introduce himself, and not everybody knew him by sight; portraits were a rare thing in those days.

Afterwards we went round the offices. Sverdlov asked the employees about their work and how they viewed their duties, and gave advice and some comradely criticism. He did not confine his interest to reading reports–he went into detail.

He grieved bitterly when he heard of a comrade's death. Volodarsky's untimely end at the hands of a Right SR assassin in Petrograd was a terrible blow to him. It happened on 20 June 1918: Volodarsky, the Petrograd workers' favourite orator, was on his way from one meeting to another when he was fired at six times. A magnificent life was cut short; a passionate tribune of the revolution was snatched from us. He was only 28.

Sverdlov left as soon as he heard the news, to attend the funeral in Petrograd. Just before we parted he said: 'I feel so dreadfully upset... A dedicated revolutionary gone forever. It's a heavy loss–but what a fine wav to go: he died at his post!'


Once power was theirs, the working people of Russia went on to build a socialist society under Bolshevik leadership. The top priority was to evolve a new state structure, the first of its kind. Though the working millions were already participating in the conduct of all the country's affairs through the Soviets, their own creation, we had to regulate the procedures of those bodies, to give them the organised and functional structure that was lacking in the early days.

The firm establishment of the Soviets and the development of the socialist state structure concerned the Central Committee and Lenin increasingly, especially after the move to Moscow. Sverdlov, for his part, never tired of emphasising the need for the closest possible contact between the organs of power and the workers, who should be extensively involved in running the state.

The first specialist courses for agitators and CEC instructors were arranged on Sverdlov's initiative, and were later renamed the Ya. M. Sverdlov Communist University, which gained a well-earned reputation as a training ground for the professional core of the Party and the Soviets. He drew up the first curriculum himself; I have a handwritten copy:

Labour and capital and the history of the class struggle: Lenin;
The agrarian question: Yaroslavsky;
Food supplies: Tsyurupa and Svidersky;
The organisation of Soviet power: Vladimirsky;
Parliamentarianism and the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie: Pokrovsky;
The construction of the Soviets: Petrovsky;
The national question: Stalin;
The Soviets and education: Lunacharsky.

Sverdlov gave lectures on the state and took an interest in the academic progress and living conditions of the students. He would often say to me after talking with them: 'My goodness, what people they are! With people like that we can move mountains.'

The Party put a great deal of effort into framing a new legislative system that would bring order and the rule of law to the country and ensure that the interests of the workers were met. This work proceeded under the guidance of Lenin, who was an outstanding jurist, while Sverdlov, head of the highest Soviet legislative body, the CEC, was constantly at hand to help him in this complex task.

Sverdlov was actively involved in all aspects of the work from 30 March 1918, when the Central Committee instructed him to form a Constitutional Commission.

The first Soviet Constitution, the fundamental law of the Soviet state that had emerged from the October Revolution, was adopted less than a year after the revolution. Based on Lenin's Declaration of the Rights of the Working and Exploited People, it was the embodiment and summary of all that the people had learned in creating and establishing the Soviet State.

Dozens of prominent Soviet and Party members, and leading specialists in law, worked under Lenin's leadership to draw up the Constitution. Having passed through its formative stages in the CEC and the Central Committee, it was presented to the All-Russia Congress of Soviets.

The Constitutional Commission's work was completed by June 1918 and the draft document was passed on to a commission of the Central Committee headed by Lenin, which made several amendments. On 10 July 1918 the Fifth Congress of Soviets ratified the Constitution of the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic.


The Fifth Congress of Soviets was not only memorable for ratifying the Constitution; it also saw the final defeat of the Left SRs.

Since the Fourth Congress of Soviets had endorsed the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the Left SRs had walked out of the Council of People's Commissars, relations had gone from bad to worse. Sverdlov repeatedly said that it had become impossible to work with them in the CEC too. I saw for myself at the CEC meetings how obstructive they could be, how they tried to disrupt the proceedings with their unruly behaviour. They were in increasingly open collusion with the Mensheviks and Right SRs, who had been expelled from the Soviets on 14 June 1918 by order of the CEC. They made this decision inevitable when they began to organize counter-revolutionary intrigues and insurrections.

The animosity of the Left SRs grew as the class struggle developed in the countryside, for the overwhelming majority of them supported the kulaks, the rich exploiting peasants, the most ferocious enemy of the working class and Soviet power. The kulaks led counter-- revolutionary revolts, hindered grain deliveries, stockpiled food and indulged in profiteering while the workers of Petrograd, Moscow and the large industrial centres went hungry. In the summer of 1918 the bread ration was again reduced, this time to an eighth of a pound every other day.

At Lenin's call the Party and the working class rose to defend Soviet power in the countryside, to defend their right to bread. The most progressive workers in the industrial towns formed food supply teams to operate in the villages and poverty committees were established in the countryside.

Everything the Soviet Government did, the decrees it passed on the food supply and the establishment of the poverty committees had a hostile reception from the Left SRs. They also agitated against the Brest-Litovsk peace, hoping to provoke an armed clash with Germany and drag Soviet Russia into a disastrous war.

At the end of June 1918 the Left SR Central Committee agreed to organise an armed rebellion to seize power by overthrowing the Soviet Government. They were supported by the Moscow-based diplomatic missions of Britain, France and the USA.

The rebellion was timed to coincide with the Fifth Congress of Soviets. They planned to arrest the Congress Presidium, occupy the Kremlin, the administrative offices, the Post Office, Telegraph and railway stations, to oust the government headed by Lenin and declare that power had passed to them, the Left SRs.

Their first steps were to muster armed support in Moscow and to put the military divisions that had already fallen into their hands on a combat footing, using the influential positions that they still held in various sections of the administration and even in the Cheka. The Left SR Central Committee proceeded as secretly as it could, meaning to catch the Bolsheviks unawares and give them no chance to resist.

The idea was to make a combined attack. They would infiltrate the guard of the Bolshoi Theatre, where the Congress was to be held, with their own trained men, who would arrest the Presidium with the help of the more brazen Left SR delegates. At the same time Blyumkin, a totally unprincipled Left SR terrorist, would assassinate Count Mirbach, the German Ambassador in Moscow, thus goading Germany into annulling the Brest-Litovsk peace and declaring war.

Such was the plan, in general outline, and this is what happened.

The arrangements for the Congress were Sverdlov's responsibility. The Left SRs were so insistent on having their men in the Bolshoi Theatre guard that they aroused his suspicions. He did not let them see that he was struck by the fuss they were making, however, and agreed, but also ordered separate security measures. So, though part of the Theatre guard consisted of Left SRs, each of them was kept under surveillance by two or three riflemen from the Latvian Infantry and men from other reliable divisions hand-picked from the Kremlin guard. The Left SRs could not lift a finger without attracting notice. Trustworthy people were also placed on watch in the nearby streets.

Of course, neither Sverdlov nor any of the Bolsheviks were sure that the Left SRs were planning something criminal, but, as the Congress date approached, the Bolsheviks became increasingly wary in their dealings with them and watched their suspicious behaviour more closely.

The Fifth All-Russia Congress of Workers', Peasants', Soldiers' and Cossacks' Deputies opened on 4 July 1918. There were 1,164 delegates, among whom were 773 Bolsheviks and 353 Left SRs.

Those early Congress sessions were the most difficult that Sverdlov had ever faced. They were scenes of unprecedented conflict which took an unprecedently ominous turn.

The Left SRs were uncooperative from the outset, shouting and whistling piercingly. Even before the day's agenda was approved the Left SR Alexandrov stood to deliver a 'message of welcome' from the working people of the Ukraine, which turned out to be a provocative attack on the Brest-Litovsk peace and a demand to renew hostilities against Germany. The Left SRs gave shouts of support and he sat down to a contrived ovation. Sverdlov rose from the chair.

`I firmly believe that the political issue raised in that speech will be best reflected in the declared will of the Congress and not in desorderly behaviour of this kind... I have no doubt that our first speaker won his applause not for his words but entirely because he was speaking for the militant workers and peasants of the Ukraine.'

Sverdlov then invited a Bolshevik representative to make an unscheduled statement, which informed the Congress that shady elements were encouraging the soldiers to rebel and mount an offensive against Germany. The Soviet Government had responded to this provocation by ordering that these agitators be taken before special tribunals. The Left SRs howled their disapproval, but the Bolsheviks were not easily shaken. They put forward the following resolution:

'Decisions on matters of war and peace are the exclusive province of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets and the central organs of Soviet power which it has established, namely the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People's Commissars. No sector of society has the right to decide such matters except in agreement with the Soviet Government... The good of the Soviet Republic is the supreme law. Whoever challenges that law should be wiped from the face of the earth.'

The Left SRs were in a fury. Prompted by Karelin, one of their leaders, they jumped up, declared that they would take no part in the voting and made an ostentatious exit.

`I note,' said Sverdlov crisply, that the Left Socialist-Revolutionary faction has left the hall. This meeting of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets will proceed.'

The Bolshevik resolution was unanimously passed and with that the first session closed. The next day Lenin and Sverdlov gave the Sovnarkom and CEC reports. The Left SRs were as unruly as before, keeping up a constant barrage of noise. The atmosphere became more charged by the hour. Those SRs who were still able to see things in their true light and had not been initiated into the plot were wondering what lay in store.

The denouement came on 6 July, with the Left SR putsch.

At three p.m. Blyumkin, armed with false papers on which his Left SR accomplices in the Cheka had forged Dzerzhinsky's signature, got into the German Embassy and gained an audience with Ambassador Mirbach. When the bomb had done its work and his victim lay fatally wounded, Blyumkin escaped through the window, leapt into a waiting car and fled to the headquarters of the Cheka unit, which was under the command of Popov, a Left SR.

Then the rebels attacked. Firing indiscriminately, they set out to occupy the telegraph office and telephone exchange, but only managed to capture the Telegraph, which they used to send messages claiming responsibility for the assassination of the representative of German imperialism, Count Mirbach' on the orders of their Central Committee, and announcing that they had seized power.

One of the earliest telegrams read: 'For the attention of telephone and telegraph operators: All communications signed by Lenin and Sverdlov are not to be forwarded, constituting a danger to the Soviet state in general and to the ruling Left Socialist-Revolutionary party in particular.'

As soon as Dzerzhinsky heard about the attempt on Mirbach's life he went to the German Embassy, where he learned that the culprit had escaped to join Popov. He telephoned Lenin and Sverdlov, then took three Cheka officials and went to find Popov, intending to clarify the situation and arrest Blyumkin. But they were overpowered, disarmed and arrested by the rebels. The Chairman of the Moscow Soviet, Pyotr Smidovich, was the next to be captured. Then the SRs occupied the Cheka building with the help of their men there, who that day comprised a large part of the guard, and arrested the high-ranking Bolshevik officials.

It was all going to plan; success seemed certain.

The attack had begun as Sverdlov was preparing to open the next session of the Congress at the Bolshoi Theatre; Lenin had not yet arrived. There was no time to waste: Sverdlov called together all the reliable comrades he could find and quickly worked out a plan, giving terse, clear instructions. Meanwhile the unsuspecting delegates were coming in and taking their seats with some commotion. Everything was ready; it was time to begin. But instead a Bolshevik representative moved that the factions consult together first; the Left SRs were to gather in one of the spacious foyers, while the Bolsheviks went to the CEC Propagandists' School. All the doors except the exit through the orchestra pit were locked. Passes were checked by Glafira Okulova, secretary of the CEC, who allowed out only those who could show the credentials of a Bolshevik delegate. They were urged to hurry.

It all went off quickly, without unnecessary fuss. The Left SR guards were removed before they knew what was happening. The entire Theatre was in Bolshevik hands and surrounded by an impenetrable cordon.

The Left SR faction gathered, but, before they had time to act, the foyer doors burst open and an armed Red Army detachment appeared. The SRs were told that they were being held in connection with a Left SR rebellion in the city, and that they should keep calm and not attempt to resist.

So the rebellion lost its leadership. The very men who had planned to seize power and arrest the Soviet Government were themselves under arrest.

By then Lenin knew about it all through Sverdlov, who had gone to the Kremlin to tell him. Having taken the most urgent steps to put down the rebellion, they went together to the German Embassy to perform the painful duty of offering the condolences of the Soviet Government.

Lenin directed operations against the rebels. He ordered that divisions of Red Guards be drawn up all over Moscow, that sizable covering detachments be stationed at all the railway stations and the main roads out of the city, and that troops surround the rebel strongholds. 'All forces to be mobilised, the general alarm to be raised to have these criminals caught without delay,' he urged.

Sverdlov sent one urgent telephone message asking that a plenary session of the Moscow Soviet be called immediately, and another to arrange for a 24-hour watch to be established in all parts of Moscow.

The Bolsheviks did not waste a moment. On the night of 6 July a ring of troops under the command of Nikolai Podvoisky was thrown around the area where Popov's men were entrenched.

The Moscow proletariat rose to defend the Soviet Government, taking up arms throughout the city. The Bolshevik Congress delegates and the Moscow Party nucleus were sent to speak to the district Soviets, the Party committees, the military divisions and the factory workers, and were put in charge of railway stations and military barracks. On Lenin's orders all cars without a pass signed by himself or Sverdlov were halted.

On the morning of 7 July the troops moved in on the rebels, meeting no resistance. After a few shots were fired the bandits took to their heels, far from sober after a night spent drinking to cheer themselves up. They tried to break through to the Kursk railway station, but found it well-guarded and turned onto the Vladimir road, where most of them were captured. Several scattered but were caught and a mere handful, including Popov, made it to the White Guard encampments.

Some of those who had been tricked into joining the insurrection listened closely to Dzerzhinsky as he heatedly denounced the real culprits. They released him early on 7 July.

Although the rebellion had been carefully planned by well-armed men who had the element of surprise on their side, the Left SR foray, which could have taken a heavy toll of casualties, ended as a total fiasco. Now the people could see the SRs for what they really were. Telegrams came from all parts of the country; at countless meetings it had been agreed to demand the severest penalties for these traitors to the revolution.

On 8 July the Central Committee discussed the Left SR delegates, who were still being held in the Bolshoi Theatre. The decision, recorded in Sverdlov's hand on official Sovnarkom paper, was to guestion them all during the night of 8 July, and to free those who had taken no part in the rebellion. All the evidence was given to an investigatory commission.

The Left SR party rapidly disintegrated. Those who had connections with the middle and poor peasantry split off into independent groups which before long joined the Bolsheviks; the rest openly went over to the counter-revolution. The Left SR party ceased to exist.

The Congress of Soviets resumed its business on 9 July. The Government made its report on recent events and the Congress approved all the measures taken to crush the rebellion. The Left SRs were expelled from the Soviets by a unanimous vote.

On 10 July the Congress ratified the Constitution of the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic, announcing to the world that the Republic of Soviets was firmly rooted and unassailable and was moving confidently towards socialism.

Lenin, Sverdlov, Lunacharsky, Petrovsky, Krylenko and other CC members and commissars gave reports about the Congress to mass meetings on 12 July, which was a Friday.

In fact, Friday was the usual day for special Party activities in Moscow in 1918 and 1919. Leading members of the Party and Government spoke to the workers in clubs and the larger factories and meeting halls. Pravda gave that week's theme on Tuesday or Wednesday, and announced the venues and the speakers, but never specified who was to speak where: that was usually decided by the Moscow Party Committee and the CEC Propaganda Section. The CC Secretariat also had a role in assigning speakers, and I often used to phone Lenin to let him know where he would be speaking on the coming Friday. He never said that he was too busy, and he never missed a meeting or arrived late.

I sometimes accompanied him and remember his animated conversation with the workers before and after the meeting, his fervent contributions to the business in hand.

Two Fridays in the middle of September are particularly memorable. Lenin had been wounded; he was still not completely well and had not yet returned to work. The Central Committee and the Government were drawing their strength from constant contact with the working class and the people as a whole, and on 13 and 20 September the meetings were devoted to reports from the people's commissars. In various parts of the city Sverdlov, Lunacharsky, Tsyurupa, Chicherin, Petrovsky, Sereda, Krylenko and Podbelsky rendered their accounts to the workers.

30 AUGUST 1918

It began like any other day. The CC Secretariat was full of callers; there was lots to do. The telephone rang at about midday. I picked it up; it was Sverdlov.

'News from Petrograd. Uritsky's been killed. Dzerzhinsky's on his way there...'

Nothing had changed, but Uritsky was gone. That ardent revolutionary, to whom the revolution, the Soviet state, owed so much, was gone. First Volodarsky, then Uritsky...

It was a Friday, the day for Party meetings all over Moscow. Lenin was to speak in the Basmanny district and at the Michelson factory in Zamoskvorechie. Sverdlov was expected in the Lefortovo district, at the Vvedensky People's House. The topic was: Two kinds of power: the dictatorship of the proletariat and the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie'.

Towards evening I phoned Sverdlov to ask if the meetings had been cancelled. He was surprised–were we going to hide, let that bourgeois filth frighten us? Of course not! The meetings had not been cancelled–Uritsky would have his due.

I had to go to the country that evening, to see the children who were staying in Kuntsevo. At the end of the day, when I had done my most pressing work, I left, taking some food with me. Sverdlov had promised to join us later that night.

I had hardly arrived when he phoned. His voice was almost unrecognisable; it had lost its habitually calm tone and was full of anxiety.

'Lenin's wounded... It's serious...'

That was all. He gave no more details, told me not to expect him, to bring the children back to Moscow the following day–and hung up.

After a sleepless night we set out for Moscow when it was barely light. The Kremlin had an odd watchful look. It was all the same as the day before, the same as ever, and yet different. There were the usual guards on the gates, but they were abnormally stern, their faces troubled and their hands unusually tense on their rifles. They were astonishingly punctilious in checking our passes.

As always there were a few people up at that early hour, but they all seemed to be in a hurry. A morose, anxious silence hung over the Kremlin.

Our flat was deserted; Sverdlov's bed had not been slept in. He had spent the night close to Lenin, either in Lenin's flat or in his office, perched uncomfortably on a chair', as Nadezhda Krupskaya later said.

I went to Sverdlov's office during the day on urgent Secretariat business and found him there. He briefly gave me the details of this monstrous crime. Lenin's condition was serious, but not beyond hope. He did not stop repeating serious but not beyond hope' until the crisis was past and Lenin began to improve.

Neither then nor at any time afterwards did I see the slightest hint of irresolution or nervousness in Sverdlov. He seemed even more steadfast and composed than usual. Krupskaya, who had returned unsuspecting from a meeting to find that Lenin had been brought home wounded, wrote:

Our flat was full of people I didn't know and there were unfamiliar coats on the rack. It was strange to see the door wide open. Sverdlov was standing by the coat-rack with a serious and determined look on his face... "What's going to happen now?" I muttered. He replied, ``I've agreed it all with Lenin."'

Sverdlov accepted as a matter of course the great burden of responsibility that fell to him; immediately after the attack it was particularly heavy, because many CC members were out of Moscow at the time. Along with his full-time work for the CC and CEC he now had to make fundamental Sovnarkom decisions and chair a number of its meetings. According to Lidia Fotieva he spent two or three hours every day in the Sovnarkom offices, working at Lenin's desk.

He usually slept in his office and rarely came home. When he did it was only for a few hours and he was so exhausted that I was afraid for him. But he would have a short sleep and in the morning be cheerful and full of energy again. He mentioned several times how glad he was that he had always been involved with the Sovnarkom. His job was easier because he was up to date on everything–though he added: But it's hard, impossibly hard without Lenin.'

'At a CEC meeting on 2 September he said:

'Every one of you did your revolutionary training, worked and matured under Comrade Lenin's guidance. And you know that no one could ever take his place.'

The news of the attack was telephoned to Sverdlov when he came back from his meeting. He rushed to Lenin's flat to find Vera BonchBruevich, the first doctor on the spot, and Lenin's sister Maria doing all they could. Two professors, Rozanov and Mints, came later, followed by Krupskaya. Sverdlov contacted Avanesov, Petrovsky and Kursky; they went together to the Cheka offices, to see Kaplan, the would-be assassin. Sverdlov enquired into the course of the investigations, and assigned Petrovsky and Kursky to begin questioning her.

On the same evening he sent out an appeal from the CEC to the working people of Russia:

Some hours ago there was a villainous attempt on the life of Comrade Lenin... The working class will react to such crimes against its leaders by a closer consolidation of its forces, and will respond with merciless mass terror against all enemies of the revolution.

Comrades! Remember that the safety of your leaders is in your hands. By closing your ranks yet further you will deal bourgeois supremacy a decisive and mortal blow.

Be calm! Be organised! Stand firm at your post! Close ranks! – Yakov Sverdlov, Chairman, All-Russia Central Executive Committee.

Thousands of telegrams, resolutions and statements sped to the Kremlin from every part of the country, from abroad, from the fronts, the factories and the countryside. At meetings in Moscow, Petrograd, Tula, Nizhni Novgorod, Ivanovo, in hundreds of towns and thousands of villages throughout our boundless land, the workers and peasants poured out their scorn and hatred for the enemies of the working class. The Communists closed ranks.


Before long Lenin's strong constitution overcame his grave injury. He returned to work towards the middle of September, but too soon: he fell ill again and his doctors insisted that he go to the country for an extended convalescence.

Sverdlov commissioned Pavel Malkov to search the outskirts of Moscow for a place that could quickly be got ready for Lenin. Malkov looked carefully at several of the many detached houses that had recently been vacated in the area. Following Sverdlov's instructions to pick a house in good condition with an extensive garden, or preferably a park, but not so large or sumptuous that Lenin would turn it down, Malkov finally chose an estate in Gorki. Sverdlov approved it and asked for it to be put in order as quickly as possible, warning Malkov not to make Lenin's whereabouts known to everyone.

The work only took a few days. After Sverdlov had checked that nothing more was needed, Lenin and Krupskaya moved in.

Sverdlov kept Lenin in touch by writing notes on issues of importance and sending him the most vital documents, and in fact spent as much time at Gorki as he had in Lenin's Moscow flat. He sometimes took the children with him, Vera more often than Andrei; Lenin was fond of her. In early October we heard of the revolutionary events in Germany. Though his doctors disapproved, Lenin wanted to return to Moscow, if only for a few days. On 1 October 1918 he wrote to Sverdlov:

'Events are accelerating at such a rate in Germany that we could be left behind. Tomorrow you must arrange a joint meeting of:
the CEC~
the Moscow Soviet~
the district Soviets~
the trade unions and so on and so forth...

'Set it for 2 p.m. on Wednesday... give me a quarter of an hour for the introductory remarks. I'll leave immediately after that. Send a car for me tomorrow morning (but phone me and just say ``Agreed''). – Greetings, Lenin.

The meeting was held as Lenin had asked, though one day later but he was not there because, as Krupskaya explained, they would not agree to his going to Moscow however much he insisted–they were taking great care of his health. The meeting was set for 3 October, a Thursday. The previous day Lenin had written a letter which was read out at the meeting, and a decision was taken on the lines that he had indicatedHe knew that no car would come for him, but all the same he waited by the side of the road...'

This was one of the rare cases when Sverdlov went against what Lenin wanted. For him Lenin's wish was law and his authority absolute; from the beginning of his revolutionary career until the day he died, Sverdlov followed Lenin and learned from him. They met in April 1917, and as their relationship grew, Sverdlov's admiration for Lenin came to be coupled with love for him as a friend and comrade. At the Sixth Congress of Soviets, summing up the past year, Sverdlov said:

'You all understand that for every one of us without exception the name of our leader, Comrade Lenin, is an essential part of the revolution and our involvement in it.'

And Lenin kept a close eye on Sverdlov, appreciated him more and more, and counted on his political insight and experience.

I think I actually understood Lenin's attitude to Sverdlov in 1917. I was in Smolny one day in late October of that year, and came upon Lenin walking down a corridor with Krupskaya and talking in a low tone. He looked tired, preoccupied and gloomy. It was the first time he had seen me since 1906, at the Fourth Party Congress, and of course did not recognise me; we had not even spoken then and many years had passed. But I had met Krupskaya several times.

I moved to one side and nodded to them from a distance, but Krupskaya came up to say hello. Lenin stood and waited; it was obvious that he was pressed for time and not pleased by this unexpected delay.

`Don't you know who this is?' Krupskaya asked him.

He stared at me, screwing up his eyes slightly, as I went closer.

'You know, it's Klavdiya Novgorodtseva, the head of Priboi, Sverdlov's wife.'

Lenin changed instantly. The lines on his high forehead smoothed out, a kindly smile lit up his face and his eyes began to sparkle with wonderful warmth and good humour. We shook hands cordially and exchanged a few words before they had to go.

Later I often saw Lenin and Sverdlov together, sometimes sat in on their discussions and often heard news of Lenin from Sverdlov. I became increasingly convinced that they were like-minded people. It took literally only, a word or two for them to understand each other. Sverdlov instantly grasped and accepted without question Lenin's every idea and every instruction, not only because he had unbounded faith in his wisdom and perception but also because they had identical views.

Lenin would often invite Sverdlov to join him when he talked to Party members or received visitors, and would sometimes ask Sverdlov to see them in his stead. Lenin once received a letter from Vladimirov, who at that time shared responsibility for food deliveries. He wanted to go south to organise supplies for the army. Lenin replied: Why did you not discuss this with Sverdlov, as we agreed?' Another time a note came to Lenin during a Sovnarkom meeting, pressing for a decree to send Sovnarkom officials to the front. Lenin wrote back: What decree? I thought we'd announce it and have done. Sverdlov is picking them out.'

Many a time Lenin telephoned to give Sverdlov an instruction, only to hear the calm reply, 'It's on', meaning that what Lenin had in mind had already been acted on.

There was a meeting in the Hall of Columns at the Trade Union House in the autumn of 1918. Sverdlov and I often went to meetings together but this time he had phoned to say that he would be delayed and I should go alone. I arrived before the meeting began to find Lenin in the foyer surrounded by people, insisting earnestly that the text of the Soviet Constitution be engraved on the Obelisk of Freedom which had recently been erected across from the Moscow Soviet building. Just then Sverdlov came in and Lenin asked for his opinion.

`Oh that!' he replied. `We can go after the meeting and see how it looks. It was done yesterday. It's all on hand.'

Lenin burst out laughing: Well, of course! Sverdlov's always got everything on hand.'


The days went by. There was never a dull moment; we were kept permanently busy, with duties great and small.

In the autumn of 1918 representatives of the younger generation began to gather in Moscow and on 29 October the First All-Russia Congress of Young Workers' and Peasants' Unions opened. This historic Congress laid the foundations of the Russian Young Communist League, the famous Komsomol.

The Congress sent a delegation to Lenin, who received them with warmth and affection, discussed the aims of the Komsomol with them in detail and then sent them to Sverdlov with a note asking him to give them lunch in the Sovnarkom canteen. Sverdlov was deeply impressed by them. 'What remarkable people those Komsomol organisers were,' he said later. They understood their duties, they had energy and enthusiasm, breadth of vision, and foresight.'

One of the delegation members Alexander Bezymensky, later gave a full account of those meetings:

'After we had talked over our conversation with Lenin,' he wrote, 'we went to Comrade Sverdlov. We had a long discussion about the Komsomol structure, its Central Committee and provincial and district committees. Sverdlov, an organisational expert, gave us a lot of advice and detailed instructions and helped us plan the development of Komsomol activity in various spheres. He shared our dreams, criticised some of our ideas.

'As our talk came to an end, our spokesman brought out Lenin's note. Sverdlov gave a broad smile, called someone in and asked him to bring some meal tickets. He put the note in a drawer and gave us the tickets...

'Sverdlov noticed as he was saying goodbye that we were holding back, not wanting to leave.

'"Come on, comrades, you've not finished–out with it!" he said.
'One of us stepped forward: "Comrade Sverdlov, we have a great favour to ask... Give us Lenin's note, please. That note will tell generations of Soviet youth more about Lenin than hundreds of articles."'


On 6 November 1918 the Sixth (Extraordinary) All-Russia Congress of Soviets opened in Moscow. It was special because it met exactly a year after the October Revolution, to review the Soviet state's first year. In his inaugural address Sverdlov said:

It is exactly a year since the Congress of Soviets which transferred power to the workers and peasants opened, as guns roared in the streets... While today we can confidently announce that throughout the length and breadth of Russia, Soviet power stands steadfast and invincible.'

The Sixth Congress was also remarkable in that it was almost entirely Bolshevik, whereas at least a third of the delegates at all previous congresses, ever since the Second, had been Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and suchlike. There were some 1,300 delegates at the Sixth Congress: about 1,250 were Bolsheviks and the rest belonged to other parties or no party at all.

There was a heightened atmosphere, a rare feeling of harmony. The motion to elect Lenin as Honorary Chairman was met with an ovation, but when Lenin took the stand to report on the international situation, the applause was enough to bring the house down. It was hard to believe that the Bolshoi Theatre could stand it!

But that was not all; at the height of the proceedings, news of the German Revolution came. When Sverdlov announced that Kaiser Wilhelm had been dethroned, that power had passed to the workers, sailors and soldiers in Hamburg, that mass meetings and demonstrations were taking place all over Germany, the thunderous ovations began afresh and the rafters of the Theatre rang with prolonged, deep-throated cheers. From far and near, workers, soldiers and peasants sent letters and telegrams with messages of support for the Sixth Congress and solidarity with the German Revolution, and sincere greetings to Lenin and Karl Liebknecht.

The German Revolution ended the occupation of Soviet territory. On 13 November 1918 the CEC annulled the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk as the German army raced westward, and the peoples of the Ukraine, Byelorussia and the Baltic began to cast off the German yoke. The CEC passed resolutions recognising the independent Soviet republics of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

Peteris Stucka was beside himself with joy. A Bolshevik of the old school, a leading Latvian Communist, prominent in our Party and Government, Stucka was devoted to his long-suffering land, to the hard-working, courageous, wonderful people of Latvia, and ached to return to Riga, his country's capital. Though German troops still had the upper hand there, the Latvian Bolsheviks, firm in their belief that liberation was coming, had decided to convene the First All-Latvia Congress of Soviets in Riga in January 1919.

Stucka, beaming with delight, invited Sverdlov, on behalf of the Latvian Government and working people, to open the Congress. Sverdlov listened carefully, hesitated for a moment, and then said with a smile:

' I am delighted to accept, but on one condition–I will go only if the workers of Latvia liberate their capital, and the Congress is held in a free city.'

Riga was liberated on 3 January 1919 and the All-Latvia Congress began on schedule. Sverdlov left for Riga in an enthusiastic mood; no one could know then how short-lived Soviet power in Latvia would be or how long it would be after that before the Latvian people could be welcomed back into the Soviet family. No one could know, either, that Sverdlov would not live to see that reunion, that this was to be one of his last trips. In the joyful bustle at the station when we saw Sverdlov off nothing could have been further from our minds.

Sverdlov was met in Riga by Stucka, President of the Soviet Government of Latvia, and others, and on 13 January he spoke to the Congress as he had promised.

He talked about the tremendous contribution that the workers of Latvia had made to the freedom and independence of Soviet Russia. He reminded them of the CEC decision to recognise Latvia's independence; he was firmly convinced that this, rather than weakening the ties of friendship between the peoples of the two countries, would strengthen them.

On the same evening he attended a meeting of the Government. F. V. Linde, who was then the Latvian People's Commissar of Justice, remembered how Sverdlov 'went into the tiniest details of our work, and was especially interested in the structure of our highest republican Government body, which was different from that in the RSFSR. He jotted down an outline in pencil and had me explain in detail the functions of all the people's commissariats and their inter-- relationships, and how decisions were taken in the Government... At that time the Government met in the Knights' House, where the Livonian nobility used to gather, and which is now used by the Presidium of the Latvian Supreme Soviet. The walls of the assembly hall were bright with enamelled coats of arms. Sverdlov was curious, and asked Stucka about the baronial families who had borne the crests. Neither Stucka nor anyone else present knew a thing about heraldry, so he jokingly promised Sverdlov that he would catch the barons and send them to Moscow with their crests to clarify the situation.'

Sverdlov returned to Moscow, but did not stay long; at the end of January he went to Minsk to attend a meeting of the Central Bureau of the Byelorussian Communist Party.

On 2 February 1919 Alexander Myasnikov opened the First Byelorussian Congress of Soviets in Minsk. Sverdlov, as Chairman of the CEC, was first to speak; he stepped to the rostrum amid prolonged applause.

'The Russian proletariat,' he declared, 'will never forget that you bore the first onslaughts of the German imperialists, preventing them from penetrating further into our country.'

Sverdlov went from Minsk to Vilno, then returned to Moscow. At the end of February he left for Kharkov, where the Third Congress of the Ukrainian Communist Party and the Third All-Ukraine Congress of Soviets were meeting. The Party Congress began on 1 March; Sverdlov welcomed the delegates on behalf of the Russian Communist Party Central Committee. He told them that a few months previously he had played a similar role at the Second Ukrainian Party Congress, which had been held in Moscow because the Ukrainian Communist Party was still an underground organisation. Now the Ukraine's ruling party, it was holding a free and legal congress in the republican capital.

The Russian Communist Party, he said, would remain united no matter how many independent national republics sprang up within the former Russian Empire. 'There is no doubt in our minds,' he went on, that our Party, the Russian Communist Party, will be forever indivisible.'

He spoke four times in all, urging the Ukrainian Bolsheviks to unity and solidarity, for they were going through a difficult time with a bitter inner-Party feud, which often owed less to principle than to irrelevent personal conflicts. It was fanned by Pyatakov, one of the former Left Communist' leaders, who led the Ukrainian Communist Party Central Committee.

Sverdlov's speech on the UCP Central Committee report was detailed, and highly critical of those who were trying to jeopardise the unity of the Ukrainian Bolsheviks.

'I simply cannot understand,' he told them, how those who have spoken to this Congress are capable of hurling such grave and unconsidered accusations at each other... We should view each other above all as comrades who have long been in the service of the same Party.

We have here two groups, locked in fierce combat... Neither has the right to forget that they are members of one Party, and that the Central Committee that will be elected by a majority decision today should unite all the Party workers in the Ukraine, should accept the general directives of the Russian Communist Party Central Committee and put them into practice here... Only with a strong Party organisation can you cope with the massive dislocation that we see on all sides.'

The Third All-Ukraine Congress of Soviets opened as the Party Congress closed. Sverdlov did not return to Moscow until it was over. He was never to leave Moscow again...

Sverdlov's life was cut short unexpectedly, when he was busier than ever before, and far from the prime of his life. He was not even 34.

His untimely death was a terrible blow to the working class, to the Communist Party, to his relatives, to his hundreds of comrades, his thousands of fellow campaigners.

It was a hard loss, too, for the Bolsheviks who had known Sverdlov in the underground, who had begun with him the magnificent task of constructing socialism in the early years of Soviet power. It was a hard loss for Lenin.

Sverdlov's death meant more to Lenin than parting with a valued and active member of the Party and Government. In Sverdlov he lost, above all, a staunch confederate and helper, a kindred spirit, a friend... At a special CEC memorial meeting on 18 March 1919, he said:

'We shall never be able to replace this man who had cultivated such an exceptional organising talent, if by replacement we mean finding one man, one comrade, with all these qualities.' 3

Every word that Lenin said about Sverdlov, every one of the many speeches in which he mentioned his name, was charged with love and profound sorrow.

``To find a person who could take the place of Comrade Yakov Mikhailovich Sverdlov in full,' Lenin told the CEC when they were seeking a new Chairman, 'is an exceedingly difficult task, for it is next to impossible for any one man to be at once a leading Party worker, moreover one who knows the history of the Party, and an excellent judge of people capable of choosing leading functionaries for the Soviets. It would be impossible to expect any one comrade to assume all the functions that Comrade Sverdlov took care of alone...'4

On 16 March 1920, the first anniversary of Sverdlov's death, Lenin spoke at a memorial meeting in the Bolshoi Theatre. On 29 March 1920, at the Ninth Party Congress, he said:

'Our Party has now been through its first year without Y. M. Sverdlov, and our loss was bound to tell on the whole organisation of the Central Committee. No one has been able to combine organisational and political work in one person so successfully as Comrade Sverdlov...'5 .

Sverdlov is dead but his memory remains forever in the hearts of Bolsheviks, of working people the world over.

Until about November 1919 the Central Committee Organisation Bureau used to meet in our flat, in Sverdlov's study. I often took the minutes of those meetings and remember how during their discussions the members would wonder aloud what Sverdlov would have thought about the issue in hand, and try to decide it as he would have done.

Sverdlov is dead. Comrade Andrei has left his post. But hundreds have risen to take his place in the ranks. In Lenin's words:

'The memory of Comrade Yakov Sverdlov will serve not only as a permanent symbol of the revolutionary's devotion to his cause and as the model of how to combine a practical sober mind, practical skill, close contact with the masses and ability to guide them; it is also a pledge that evergrowing numbers of proletarians, guided by these examples, will march forward to the complete victory of the world communist revolution.'6

  • 1This was a counter-revolutionary mutiny in Soviet Russia by Czechoslovak troops in May to November 1918. The Czechoslovak divisions had been formed from Czech and Slovak prisoners during the First World War. Immediately before the October Revolution the divisions were united into one corps of between forty and fifty thousand men. In 1918 their numbers were swelled by White Guards.

    The Soviet Government permitted the Czechs and Slovaks in the corps to leave for Western Europe via Vladivostok. They agreed to hand over their weapons to the local Soviet authorities, but did not keep their word.

    Bribed by the French, English and Americans and with active help from the Socialists-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, the corps commanders fomented an anti-Soviet mutiny among their troops. They planned to seize the Central Volga Region and Siberia.– Ed.

  • 2The Cheka (the All-Russia Extraordinary Commission; its shortened name was formed from its Russian initials–Tr.) was a special Soviet Government organ which fought counter-revolution and sabotage from 1917 to 1919.–Ed.
  • 3V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 29, p. 93.
  • 4Ibid., p. 233.
  • 5Ibid., Vol. 30, p. 443.
  • 6Ibid., Vol. 29, p. 94.