22/7/1917 Alexander Kerensky, Russia’s new Prime Minister #1917Live

The crackdown following the recent unrest in Petrograd sees the Bolsheviks in some disarray. They have been blamed for all the trouble, their leader Lenin denounced as a German spy. Senior Bolsheviks now languish in jail or lead a precarious existence on the run. Lenin himself and Zinoviev have fled to Finland, still part of the Russian Empire but a place in which it is easier for them to lie low.

Meanwhile the rise of Kerensky continues. The recent political turmoil has all been too much for Prince Lvov, who now resigns as head of the Provisional Government, naming Kerensky as his successor. This young man of destiny now sets about forming his new cabinet.

Pressing matters however must be dealt with immediately. The scale of the disaster following the recent failed offensive against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians is now increasingly apparent, with enemy advances continuing and the Russian army gripped be desertion and indiscipline. Kerensky acts in an effort to stem the flood. General Kornilov is appointed commander of the South Western Front, where the army’s disintegration is most pronounced. Kornilov is known to be a tough general of the old school; if anyone can restore order, it is him. Starting as he means to go on, Kornilov demands the reintroduction of the death penalty for deserters.

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Alexander Kerensky (Wikipedia)

Lavr Kornilov (Wikipedia)

20/7/1917 The Corfu Declaration: plans for a future Yugoslavia

No country is doing very well out of the war but Serbia is having a worse time of it than most. The Central Powers have overrun the country and driven the Serbian government into exile. Occupied Serbia is now a land of famine and pestilence.

Yet the Serbian government in exile, now based on Corfu, is still looking forward to the post-war future. Serb nationalists have long dreamed of uniting all Serbs into single kingdom; this after all was what motivated Gavrilo Princip when he shot Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Up to now the great power patron of the Greater Serbia project was Russia. With Russia now succumbing to revolutionary chaos, Serbian leaders are having to fine-tune their plans for the post-war settlement.

Some politicians from the other Slavic peoples of southern Austria-Hungary went into exile at the start of the war and began to agitate for the formation of a new country for all the southern Slavs, to be called Yugoslavia. Their aims were antithetical to those of the Serbs, as they want a federal country in which the separate Slavic peoples will enjoy equality while the Serbs want a unified Greater Serbia. But the Yugoslavs fear Italian plans for expansion on the Dalmatian coast and want to use the Serbian army as a counter-weight. The Serbs meanwhile are willing to make concessions now that their Russian patron is no longer able to fight their corner.

So it is that today that Nikola Pašić, exiled prime minster of Serbia, and Ante Trumbić of the Yugoslav Committee issue the Corfu Declaration, proposing to establish a Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (with the existing King of Serbia becoming the King of the Yugoslavs).

Britain and France are supportive of this new endeavour, but Italian politicians regard it with immediate suspicion. They had entered the war with dreams of establishing an empire on the eastern shores of the Adriatic. Perhaps if Italian armies had spent the last few years winning a string of impressive victories then Italian politicians would be better able to press their claims, but alas, successive failures on the Isonzo have made Allied leaders less receptive to Italian demands.

Text of the declaration

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Page one of the declaration (Wikipedia)

19/7/1917 Kerensky’s star rises as that of the Bolsheviks falls

In Petrograd the excitement of the last few days is fast abating. The radicals seeking to overthrow the Provisional Government have been dispersed. The Bolsheviks are blamed for inciting all the trouble, with Lenin, their leader, apparently revealed as a German agent. With their headquarters seized by the authorities Bolshevik leaders go on the run; those who fail to escape the dragnet find themselves imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Kerensky, the defence minister now deems it safe to return to the city (from which he fled when the trouble started). He is greeted with a guard of honour and presents himself as the national hero who has saved Petrograd by summoning the loyalist troops that quelled the revolt.

However, not everything is going Kerensky’s way. The great offensive he insisted the army stage against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians has been a disaster. Now the Germans are staging a counter-offensive in strength. The Russians are reeling from the onslaught, seemingly unable to offer meaningful resistance. It now looks as though Kerensky’s offensive has broken the Russian army.

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Alexander Kerensky (Wikipedia)

Russians attacked by German cavalry (Metropostcard: The Eastern Front  1917-1919)

19/7/1917 The Reichstag passes its Peace Resolution #1917Live

German parliamentarians are restless. The failure of the U-boat war to bring Britain to its knees has made them unruly. Bethmann Hollweg has been sacked as Chancellor because of his failure to keep the Reichstag in line. Now the politicians take a bold step as Germany’s parliament passes a Peace Resolution supported by the Socialists, Progressives and the Catholic Centre Party. The resolution calls for a “a peace of understanding, for durable reconciliation among the peoples of the world” and rejects “territorial acquisitions achieved by force and violations of political, economic, or financial integrity”. It also calls for the establishment of new international organisations after the war’s end.

The Peace Resolution is no pacifist charter. The politicians support the war’s continuation so long as Germany’s enemies continue to threaten the Fatherland. Nevertheless, the resolution is something of an embarrassment for Hindenburg and Ludendorff (Germany’s effective rulers), as they are very much wedded to a post-war reconstruction of Europe to Germany’s advantage.

full text of the resolution

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Incoming Chancellor Michaelis addresses the Reichstag (Deutscher Bundestag: Kaiserreich 1871-1918)

16/7/1917 Petrograd erupts

Unrest has been building in Petrograd. Now it erupts. Revolutionary soldiers and radicalised workers take to the streets. They have had enough of the Provisional Government and want rid of it. Some are calling for executive power to be assumed by the Petrograd Soviet (which now has delegates from all across Russia) while others have less focussed demands. The radicals send messengers to the Kronstadt naval base, calling on the sailors there to join them in the capital’s streets. The workers of the city’s industrial areas are also summoned to the city centre.

The streets are largely in the hands of the radicals, but they still resistance from Cossacks, some loyalist soldiers and conservative militiamen. Shots ring out across the city, with it not always being clear who is firing on whom.

The events have the Bolsheviks in a quandary. Lenin is away in Finland. Many of the Bolshevik rank and file are actively involved in the unrest, hoping to use it to overthrow the Provisional Government. But the leadership are more cautious, fearing the consequences of premature action. They send a message to Lenin, calling for his urgent return. Leading Bolsheviks Zinoviev and Kamenev write a front page editorial for tomorrow’s Pravda, the party newspaper, calling for restraint.

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Revolutionaries (The Internationalists: 1917 – The July Days)

Factory workers summoned to the streets (BBC Eduction: the July Days)

15/7/1917 Tension builds in Petrograd

Unrest is building in Petrograd. Plans to send fractious army units to the front have led to the affected soldiers plotting in turn to overthrow the Provisional Government. Anarchists have joined in these plans for a second revolution. So too have elements of the Bolsheviks, though that party is divided. The junior elements and members of the party’s Military Organisation are supportive of the soliders but Lenin and other leaders are more cautious. However Lenin is away in Finland suffering from exhaustion, unable for now to provide firm leadership.

Tonight a fund-raising concert is held to purchase anti-war propaganda for the soldiers to bring to the front. The concert is addressed by two Bolshevik sympathisers, Leon Trotsky and Anatoly Lunacharsky. They repeat Lenin’s slogan: “All power to the Soviets”, proposing to hand over power to the workers’ councils that have sprung up across Russia. The crowd is fired up and a sense of imminent insurrection spreads.

The Provisional Government meanwhile faces problems of its own. The government has reached a compromise with the Ukrainian Rada, effectively recognising the autonomy of Ukraine. This is a step too far for the Kadets (the Constitutional Democrats), who are already irked by the government’s failure to crack down on industrial unrest and land seizures by the peasantry. The Kadet ministers resign from the government in protest.

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Leon Trotsky (In Defence of October: Trotsky in January 1917)

13/7/1917 Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg leaves the stage #1917Live

Germany’s politicians are restive. The dawning realisation that the U-boat campaign is not going to win the war has led to a rising dissatisfaction in the Reichstag. Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg is in an awkward position. He was never a supporter of the U-boat war but has been obliged to defend it on behalf of the army and navy. Now he tries to broker some kind of compromise between the parliamentarians and the regime. He suggests extreme political reforms to the Kaiser: extending the vote to all adult men and bringing Reichstag leaders into the government. But he is unable to convince the Kaiser and he is unable to bring the Reichstag into line, with it becoming apparent that the parliamentarians are about to pass a resolution calling for a compromise peace.

In France or Britain the prime ministers must retain the confidence of parliament to remain in office but in Germany the Chancellor serves at the pleasure of the Kaiser. Kaiser Wilhelm is now little more than a figurehead, with real power lying with Hindenburg and Ludendorff in the army. As far as they are concerned, Bethmann Hollweg has failed in his job of keeping the Reichstag in line. Therefore he has to go. He tenders his resignation. Another of the leaders at the war’s start leaves the stage.

Hindenburg and Ludendorff pick Bethmann Hollweg’s replacement. He is Georg Michaelis, a bureaucrat seen to have successfully administered food distribution in Prussia. He is Germany’s first Chancellor not to be drawn from the aristocracy.

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Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg (Wikipedia)

Hindenburg & Ludendorff (Wikipedia)