18/7/1917 The revolutionary moment passes in Petrograd #1917Live

Yesterday Petrograd seemed to be enduring a second revolution, with radical workers, soldiers and Kronstadt sailors looking like they were about to overthrow the Provisional Government and hand power to the Petrograd Soviet. The radicals controlled the streets and there was no power in the city that could resist them. However the Soviet leaders declined the power offered to them and the revolutionary tide began to ebb.

Now the fortunes of the Provisional Government are once more in the ascendant. Loyalist troops arrive on the streets of Petrograd and begin to take control from the radicals.

The loyalist soldiers have been turned against the Bolsheviks by shocking reports now beginning to appear in the newspapers, alleging that Lenin is none other than a German agent, based on the testimony of an escapee from a German prisoner of war camp and on the Germans having let Lenin travel through Germany on his special train.

Realising that a reactionary crackdown is imminent the Bolshevik leadership prepares to go into hiding. The Kronstadt sailors are persuaded to abandon the Peter and Paul Fortress. They return to their base while demonstrators drift back to their homes and radical soldiers to their barracks.

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Loyalist troops (World Socialist Web Site: July 17–23: The “July Days”: Insurrection and counterrevolution in Petrograd)

A demonstration broken up (Spectator: Champagne and revolution in Petrograd, 1917)

17/7/1917 Petrograd: a second Russian Revolution?

In Petrograd morning readers of Pravda, the Bolshevik newspaper, are greeted by an unusual sight: the paper has a gap on the centre of its front page where the leading article has been cut out. Pravda went to press with a front page editorial urging readers to be wary of joining in the demonstrations that threaten to overthrow the Provisional Government. Overnight though senior Bolsheviks have had a change of heart, deciding that they must back the radical workers and soldiers (and their own rank and file) or risk losing all credibility with them. It is too late to change Pravda‘s editorial so they manually excise the now embarrassing article from all issues.

Meanwhile the streets are in the hands of the radicals. The Kronstadt sailors have arrived in town, boosting the numbers of the revolutionaries. Bolshevik leader Lenin has also returned to the city. The Kronstadters and other radicals flock to hear Lenin speak, expecting him to order them to seize power. But Lenin seems wrong-footed by the speed of events; his speech is curiously hesitant and disappoints his audience.

Intermittent fighting continues through the day as the radicals exchange fire with small numbers of army officer cadets, cossacks and other counter-revolutionaries. A revolutionary crowd assembles outside the Tauride Palace, where the Petrograd Soviet is based. The crowd want the Soviet to take power but the Soviet leaders wary of taking on the burden of government. The crowd becomes restless. Socialist Revolutionary leader Viktor Chernov is sent out to calm the crowd but manages to inflame its anger. “Take power when it’s handed to you, you son of a bitch!” shouts a furious worker, waving his fist in Chernov’s face. He starts to be manhandled and is only able to escape when the Bolshevik Trotsky intervenes on his behalf.

The crowd at the Tauride Palace begins to disperse. For want of anything better to do the Kronstadt sailors seize the Peter and Paul Fortress but it begins to look at though the revolutionary moment is passing.

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A crowd on Nevsky Prospect scatters as shooting breaks out (Wikipedia)

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)