Sukhanov’s personal recollections of the October Revolution (1922)


Nikolai Sukhanov was a member both of the Bolshevik party and the Petrograd Soviet. Writing in his 1922 memoir, he recalls the events of the October Revolution:


“The decisive operations of the Military Revolutionary Committee began at around 2am… occupying first all of those parts of the city adjoining the Finland station… Together with the units arrived from Finland it would be possible to launch an offensive against the centre of the capital. Beginning at 2am, the stations, bridges, lighting installations, telegraphs and telegraphic agency were gradually occupied by small forces brought from the barracks. The little groups of cadets could not resist and didn’t think of it. In general, the military operations in the politically important centres of the city rather resembled a changing of the guard…

The decisive operations that had begun were quite bloodless; not one casualty was recorded. The city was absolutely calm. Both the centre and the suburbs were in a deep sleep, not suspecting what was going on in the quiet of the night. The operations went so smoothly that no great forces were required. Out of a garrison of 200 000 scarcely a tenth went into action, probably much fewer…

It was natural to try above all to paralyse the political and military centre of the government – that is, occupy the Winter Palace. The old authorities and their military apparatus had to be liquidated. Otherwise the insurrection could by no means be considered [successful] and two powers — one ‘legitimate’, the other merely future — would have been able to carry on a civil war, with the chances greatly favouring the former… Nevertheless, throughout the night the insurrectionists did not even try to touch either the Winter Palace, the Staff [building] or individual ministers… the defences of the empty Winter Palace in those hours were absolutely fictitious, while the General Staff was not protected at all. As far as can be judged from the scanty data, there was not even the usual pair of sentries at the entrance. The General Staff, together with Kerensky, could have been taken with bare hands…

In the early morning the troops began to form lines along a few streets and canals… When all the important points of the city were occupied without any resistance, and the ranks were placed not very far from the Winter Palace and the Staff, the Military Revolutionary Committee rang the bell. By 10am it had already written and sent for printing this proclamation: ‘To the citizens of Russia: The Provisional Government is overthrown. The state power has passed into the hands of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, which stand at the head of the Petrograd garrison and proletariat… Long live the revolution of the workers, soldiers and peasants!’

To my mind this all was premature. The Provisional Government was still not overthrown. It still existed in the form of the acknowledged official authority and was organising defences within the capital and the crushing of the rebellion outside. At 10am the position, to my mind, was no different from what it had been the night or the week before… Smolny [Bolshevik headquarters] had brought the troops out of barracks and distributed them at various points in the city… But it [the government] would be overthrown only when it either was captured or ceased calling itself the Government and declined to govern…

Soon after 12 o’clock I walked to the Marian Palace along the Nevsky and the Moika. The streets were animated but not alarmed… Some of the shops were shut and others were shutting down. The banks had hardly opened and were finishing their operations. Government offices were closed… As before there was neither fighting nor shooting any where… I then headed for Smolny… The streets were growing more and more lively… I got to Smolny around 3 o’clock. It was still much the same. But there were even more people, and the disorder had grown…

A meeting was going on. Trotsky was chairman. But it was hard to hear from behind the columns and armed people were thrusting back and forth. When I came in, an unknown, bald, clean-shaven man was standing on the platform making a heated speech. But he spoke in a strangely familiar loud, hoarse voice, with a throaty note and a very typical stressing of the end of the sentence. It was Lenin! He had appeared that very day, after a four-month stay underground… ‘The oppressed masses themselves will form a government. The old state apparatus will be destroyed root and branch, and a new administrative apparatus will be created in the form of Soviet organisations. Now begins a new era in the history of Russia… this third revolution must finally lead to the victory of socialism!'”