18/5/1917 Russia’s government reconstituted as unrest spread across the country

Prince Lvov has managed to reconstitute Russia’s Provisional Government. His cabinet is now formally supported by the Petrograd Soviet, several of whose leading figures accept ministries, including Tsereteli of the Menshevik faction of the Socialist Democrats. Kerensky meanwhile is promoted to war minister.

Miliukov, the former foreign minister, is sacked from the government. His addendum to the Soviet’s peace proposal had provoked uproar, making him a deeply unpopular figure. His supporters in the Kadets (the Constitutional Democrats) also leave the government and adopt a more oppositional stance. The Kadets had represented progressive elements within the pre-revolutionary elite but now their reactionary side becomes more apparent. They position themselves as the party of law and order, the true defenders of the Russian Empire from the revolutionary chaos engulfing it.

If Prince Lvov had hoped that bringing the Soviet leaders and Mensheviks into the government would be a moderating influence on the country at large, he is mistaken. Workers are emboldened by the arrival of socialist ministers and there is an upsurge in labour militancy. The Bolsheviks remain outside the government, hoping that they will be able to rally leftist opposition.

Meanwhile in the countryside, peasants have grown tired of waiting for government sanctioned land reform. Instead they are increasingly seizing and dividing up the big estates themselves. Delegates at the All-Russian Peasant Assembly endorse the seizure of the estates, legitimising the revolution in the countryside.

4/5/1917 Unrest continues in Petrograd

It is becoming apparent that the Russian Revolution did not end with the overthrow of the Tsar but remains an ongoing process. The Provisional Government in Petrograd struggles to assert its authority over a fractious nation. Many see the Petrograd Soviet as a more legitimate body than Prince Lvov‘s government, with radical elements hoping that the council of workers and soldiers will seize power.

The actions of members of the Provisional Government do not always endear them to the masses. The Petrograd Soviet is supporting an end to the war, based on a peace without annexations or indemnities. The Provisional Government has agreed to formally endorse this peace offensive, but when the Soviet’s declaration of war aims is sent to foreign embassies, Milyukov, the foreign minister, inserts an addendum saying that Russia remains committed to a decisive victory and will stand by its allies. This undercuts the Soviet proposal and implies that Russia remains committed to the secret deals negotiated by the Tsarist government.

The result is uproar. Radicals take to the streets in Petrograd. Armed revolutionary soldiers hope that the Petrograd Soviet will overthrow the Provisional Government and assume power. Fighting breaks out between the demonstrators and reactionary elements.

Kornilov, the Petrograd garrison commander, wants to deploy loyal troops to clear the streets. But the Provisional Government fears civil war, as do the leaders of the Petrograd Soviet, who also have no desire to assume the reigns of government. The Soviet leaders order the demonstrators to disperse. They meekly obey. Prince Lvov meanwhile enters into negotiations with the Menshevik Irakli Tsereteli, a leading figure in the Soviet. Defusing the situation, the Soviet’s executive and the the Provisional Government issue a joint declaration repudiating Milyukov’s note. Lvov also promises Tsereteli that if the Soviets formally join his government then he will arrange for Milyukov’s sacking.

image source:

Demonstrating soldiers in Petrograd (World Socialist Web Site)

17/4/1917 Lenin delivers his April Theses, denouncing the Provisional Government

Bolshevik leader Lenin returned to Russia yesterday. Today he addresses a joint meeting of the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions of the Social Democrats.

The Mensheviks and most of the Bolsheviks support the Provisional Government, believing that Russia needs to go through a period of bourgeois democracy before it can progress to socialism. Lenin however rubbishes such views. He sees the recent revolution as a beginning rather than an end. Socialists should not support the Provisional Government or any attempt to establish a parliamentary democracy in Russia. Instead they should work to establish proletarian rule through the medium of the soviets that have sprung up across the country. He also calls for an end to the war and for radical land reform.

Lenin’s deliberately provocative argument causes uproar, dashing any chance of a rapprochement between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. Many of Lenin’s Bolshevik colleagues think that he has taken leave of his senses, seeing the Bolsheviks as too small to spearhead a push for socialist revolution. But Lenin is confident that the force of his personality will bring the rest of the Bolsheviks with him. And in his argument, which becomes known as his April Theses, he is successfully positioning the Bolsheviks as the leaders of the left opposition to the Provisional Government.

see also: the text of Lenin’s speech, as subsequently published in Pravda

image source: Lenin delivers his April Theses (GlobalSecurity.org)

16/4/1917 Socialist firebrand Lenin arrives in Petrograd, proclaims opposition to the war


Lenin‘s long train journey from Zurich is over. Late this evening his train arrives in Petrograd from Finland. The exiled socialist is greeted by a band playing the Marseillaise and an excited crowd, some of whom may have shown up for the free beer that has become customary on the arrival of former political exiles.

Lenin then addresses the crowd outside the station, proclaiming that the recent revolution is only the beginning of a socialists revolution that will sweep the world. He also expresses his implacable opposition to the war. This puts him at odds with the Provisional Government, which supports the continued war effort. Many in the Petrograd Soviet also favour continuing the war, both to defend the revolution and to bring freedom to territories under German and Austro-Hungarian control. Lenin is now placing himself and his Bolshevik party at the head of the anti-war movement.

image sources:

Lenin arrives in Petrograd (Why Evolution Is True)

Socialist Realist depiction of Lenin arriving in Petrograd (Burbank, California)

11/4/1917 Discipline breaks down in Russia’s army

The recent revolution in Russia saw the emergence of the Petrograd Soviet, a council representing the workers and soldiers of that city. Since then other soviets have emerged across the empire, creating a system of political organisation that threatens to replace the official organs of the state. Today delegates from across the country meet at a conference of soviets in Petrograd. They pass a resolution calling for an immediate end to the war without annexations or indemnities, wrong-footing the Provisional Government who still want the war prosecuted to victory.

In the early days of the revolution, military commanders hoped to keep their troops insulated from the radical ideas in Petrograd. In this they have failed. The radicalism of the home front has gradually permeated the army as a whole. Now the army’s discipline is beginning to break down. Soldiers are no longer inclined to unthinkingly obey their officers, whose authority has ebbed away. Solders grumble that they are being made to fight a war that serves only the interests of the rich and powerful. Increasingly they begin to desert, leaving their units and heading home.

9/4/1917 Lenin departs Zurich for Russia in his special German train

Russia remains in ferment, with the recent revolution having released radical currents previously bottled up by the Tsarist regime. However, many of the leading radicals are based outside the country, having been expelled or fled beyond the reach of the Tsar’s police. Now these exiles are trying to get back home as quickly as possible, in the hope of moving events in their preferred direction.

One of these exiles is Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik faction of the Social Democrats, a Russian Marxist group. Lenin has spent the war in Zurich. While desperate to return home, his way back appears difficult, as travelling to Russia requires him to traverse German controlled territory.

Fortunately for Lenin, this is not so much of a problem as he fears. The German authorities are happy to arrange for Lenin to return to Russia. They believe that trouble-makers like Lenin will further undermine the Russian war effort.

So today Lenin, his wife Nadezhda Krupskaya and a few dozen of their party comrades depart Zurich in a special train. Lenin and his associates will cross Germany in secret and then make their way to Petrograd via Sweden and Finland. Funds will be provided to assist his political efforts.

As the train crosses Germany, Lenin cannot but notice the dire situation within Germany itself. He begins to wonder if Germany too might be on the brink of a revolution.

Returning Lenin to Russia is part of a broader German strategy to exploit the Russian Revolution. Along the front, soldiers are encouraged to fraternise with their Russian opponents and to impress upon them that the war is one that was forced on Germany by the leaders of Britain, France and Russia. They hope thereby to encourage pacifist sentiment in the Russian army.

image source:

Vladimir Lenin (Wikipedia)

Lenin’s route (Smithsonian Magazine)

See also: Lenin on the Train, interesting sounding book by Catherine Merridale, in which she retraces Lenin’s journey.

16/3/1917 The end of the Russian monarchy

Yesterday the Tsar abdicated, naming his brother, the Grand Duke Mikhail, as his successor. This comes as something of a surprise to Mikhail when he learns the news today in Petrograd. Having seen the revolutionary disorder in the capital at first hand, the Grand Duke is wary of accepting the throne. He is probably right to do so, as news that there is to be a new Tsar leads to considerable anger among the more radical elements in the city.

The Grand Duke meets with the Provisional Government. Most of them urge him to decline the throne, arguing that if he were not to do so Russia would be plunged into a chaotic civil war. However Milyukov, the foreign minister, argues the opposite, saying that without a Tsar Russia will collapse into anarchy.

What clinches it for the Grand Duke is the realisation that the Provisional Government would not be able to guarantee his personal safety if he accepts the crown. He chooses to abdicate, ending one of the shortest reigns in history and 300 years of rule by the Romanov dynasty.

Russia is now a republic. As news filters through the country it is greeted with joyous celebration.

image source:

Grand Duke Mikhail (Wikipedia)