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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Yakov Sverdlov born June 3, 1885



The great Bolshevik revolutionary Yakov Sverdlov was born June 3, 1885.


Yakov Sverdlov, a professional revolutionary, was an outstanding organizer of the Communist Party and the Soviet state, and one of Vladimir Lenin's closest comrades in arms. Twelve years of his short life were spent in czarist prisons and in exile.


After the Revolution Sverdlov was chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and head of state of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic until his death in March 1919 as a result of the Spanish flu at age 33.


At his funeral Lenin said "Comrades, today, when the workers of all countries are honouring the memory of the heroic rise and tragic end of the Paris Commune we have to inter the remains of Yakov Mikhailovich Sverdlov. In the course of our revolution, and in its victories, Comrade Sverdlov succeeded in expressing more fully and integrally than anybody else the chief and most important features of the proletarian revolution, and this, even more than his boundless devotion to the cause of the revolution, made him significant as a leader of the proletarian revolution."


Lenin speaks at Sverdlov's funeral.


From At the Kremlin Wall (1967):


YAKOV MIKHAILOVICH SVERDLOV, who as a 16-year-old boy joined the R.S.D.L.P. in 1901, was a professional revolutionary of the Leninist school, a man who played an outstanding role in building the Communist Party and the socialist state.


Soon after joining the Party he displayed uncommon abilities as an organiser and agitator. The Party used him for the very hard and dangerous work of an agent of the Northern Regional Committee and then of the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. During the revolution of 1905 the Urals became Sverdlov's big revolutionary school. While helping the local Bolsheviks with practical guidance of the revolutionary struggle, he himself continuously learned, eagerly imbibing the abundant experience of the proletariat, who had risen to revolutionary activity.


"Nobody knew when he rested," his comrades later recalled. "Small, puny, with a thick crop of pitch-black hair, wearing plain boots Sverdlov marched from meeting to meeting and in a stentorian voice, which was out of keeping with his size, instilled courage and confidence in everybody wherever he appeared."


"At the very beginning of the twentieth century, Comrade Sverdlov stood before us as the most perfect type of professional revolutionary," said Lenin. From April 1917 till he died he was a permanent secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Sverdlov and his few closest assistants concentrated in their hands all of the organisational work of the Central Committee and the practical leadership of the Party locally, thereby ensuring the development of the revolution in depth and in breadth.


It was precisely then that Sverdlov's exceptional organisational talent, his determination and irreconcilability in the struggle against the enemies, the acute class sense and brilliant knowledge of the Party personnel particularly came to the fore. That was why, when the question of appointing a Chairman of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee, the supreme body of Soviet power, came up, Lenin said: "We could never find anybody better than Sverdlov."


Sverdlov's death in March 1919 was a severe loss to the Party and the young Soviet state.


Vladimir Ilyich leading the funeral procession approached the Kremlin Wall in order to pay his last respects to the fiery revolutionary.


"Lenin is going up to the platform," reported the newspaper VECHERNIYE IZVESTIA (Evening News) describing the funeral meeting on Red Square. "The crowd quietens and the echo in the square clearly and distinctly repeats his words:


"'We will always remember Comrade Sverdlov. Over his grave we take a solemn oath to wage an even tougher struggle for the overthrow of capital, for the full freedom of the workers!' "


Lenin, Yakov Sverdlov, Mikhail Vladimirsky and Pytor Smidovich before unveiling an temporary monument to Marx and Engels in Moscow, November 7, 1918


From the Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979):


Sverdlov, Yakov Mikhailovich


(party pseudonyms included Andrei and Maks). Born May 22 (June 3), 1885, in Nizhny Novgorod (present-day Gorky); died Mar. 16, 1919, in Moscow. Prominent figure in the Communist Party and Soviet state. Member of the Communist Party from 1901.


The son of an artisan-engraver, Sverdlov began working as an apprentice in a pharmacy in 1900. He conducted propaganda work among the workers of Kanavino and Sormovo and in 1901 was arrested for participating in a demonstration against the expulsion of Maxim Gorky from Nizhny Novgorod. He became a professional revolutionary and was active in Nizhny Novgorod, Kostroma, Yaroslavl, Kazan, and other cities. In the period 1902–03 he was arrested, imprisoned, and exiled several times. In 1904, as a result of a decision by the Northern Committee of the RSDLP, he went underground.


In 1905 the Central Committee of the RSDLP sent Sverdlov to consolidate the Urals party organization; in December 1905 he headed the committee of the RSDLP in Ekaterinburg (renamed Sverdlovsk in 1924, in his honor). In January 1906 he engaged in efforts to reestablish the Perm’ party organization, which had been suppressed by the police. In February 1906 he presided at the Second Urals Regional Party Conference in Ekaterinburg and was elected a member of the regional committee of the RSDLP. He was arrested in June 1906 and was sentenced to two years in prison in 1907. In November 1909 the Central Committee of the RSDLP sent him to reestablish the Moscow party organization. Sverdlov was arrested in December 1909 and exiled in 1910 to Narym Krai; he escaped in July. He worked in the St. Petersburg party organization as a representative of the Central Committee of the RSDLP and helped prepare for the publication of the newspaper Zvezda (Star). He was arrested again in November 1910 and in 1911 was exiled once more to Narym. He initiated the formation of a central bureau to direct party work among the exiles in Narym Krai. After the Sixth (Prague) All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP in 1912, he was co-opted in absentia into the Central Committee and made a member of the committee’s Russian Bureau. In December 1912 he escaped from exile and came to St. Petersburg, where he was one of the leaders of the newspaper Pravda and of the Bolshevik faction of the Fourth State Duma. In 1913 he was arrested and exiled to Turukhan Krai, where he continued his revolutionary activity.


After the February Revolution of 1917, Sverdlov went to Pe-trograd. In April the Central Committee of the RSDLP(B) sent him to the Urals, where he led the Urals Regional Party Conference in Ekaterinburg. He was a delegate to the Seventh (April) All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP (B) and was elected a member of the Central Committee. After the conference, he was elected secretary of the Central Committee and a delegate to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. He headed the Organizational Bureau at the Sixth Congress of the RSDLP(B), at which he was again elected a member of the Central Committee. After the congress, Sverdlov took charge of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the RSDLP(B) and worked in the leadership of the committee’s Military Organization, established relations with local party organizations, and maintained constant contact with V. I. Lenin, who was then underground. Sverdlov chaired the Central Committee of the RSDLP (B) at the sessions of Oct. 10 (23) and 16 (29), 1917; these sessions adopted the decision for an armed uprising. Sverdlov was elected to the Military Revolutionary Center, which directed the uprising. He was a delegate to the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, where he led the Bolshevik faction.


On Nov. 8 (21), 1917, at Lenin’s suggestion, Sverdlov was elected chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, while continuing to serve as secretary of the Central Committee of the RSDLP(B). He also headed the commission that drafted the first constitution of the RSFSR. At the Seventh Party Congress he was again elected to the Central Committee. In 1918 he was instrumental in founding a school for agitators and instructors under the auspices of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (in July 1919 the school was reorganized as the Ia. M. Sverdlov Communist University). Sverdlov took part in the preparations for the First Congress of the Comintern and, from January to February 1919, in the work of the first congresses of Soviets of Latvia, Lithuania, and Byelorussia. In March 1919 he participated in the Third Congress of the CP(B) of the Ukraine and the Third All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets.


In characterizing Sverdlov’s work of consolidating Soviet power in the center of the country and in local areas and creating the new apparatus of the Soviet state, Lenin said: “The work he performed as an organiser, in choosing men and appointing them to responsible posts in all the various departments, will be performed in future only if we appoint whole groups of men to handle the different major departments that he had sole charge of, and if these men, following in his footsteps, come near to doing what this one man did alone” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 38, p. 79).


Sverdlov was buried on Red Square at the Kremlin Wall.


Yakov Sverdlov addresses a huge crowd on May Day, Red Square, 1918


Sverdlov, who was Head of State at the time, is atop an armoured car nicknamed "Red Zamoskvorechye".


Yakov Sverdlov in his office, 1918

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