6/11/1917 Kerensky’s failed attempt to crush the Bolsheviks #1917Live

In Russia power is ebbing away from Kerensky‘s Provisional Government. The advance of the Germans in the Baltic is leading to fears that Petrograd might fall, but more disturbing are signs that the Bolsheviks are planning to seize power. The Bolshevik-controlled military committee of the Petrograd Soviet has been spreading its tentacles throughout the city, with most of Petrograd’s garrison now loyal to it rather than the Provisional Government. This includes the troops stationed in the Peter & Paul Fortress, whose guns command the Winter Palace in which the Provisional Government is based.

Kerensky seems powerless to stop the rising influence of the Bolsheviks. Verkhovsky, the war minister, has suggested that he seek an immediate peace with the Germans, undercutting the Bolsheviks whose demand for an end to the war has struck a chord with many. But Kerensky is determined to keep Russia in the war, despite the increasing inability of the army to fight the Germans.

Kerensky’s dwindling band of supporters have urged him to strike back against the Bolsheviks, decapitating them before they can seize power. Now he finally accedes to their request, ordering the suppression of the Bolshevik press and the arrest of their leaders. But Kerensky’s weakness is now all too apparent: he simply does not have the forces at his disposal for an effective crackdown. The men he sends to the Bolshevik printing presses are soon chased away by revolutionary troops. His hunters are unable to locate Lenin or the other leading Bolsheviks. And in the tumult that follows, Kerensky’s men lose control of two of the bridges into central Petrograd.

For the Bolsheviks, Kerensky’s attempted crackdown focuses minds. The party’s leadership had agreed in principle to a seizure of power at some unspecified point in the future. Now they realise that the time to strike is now.

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The Provisional Government (Wikipedia: Russian Provisional Government)

23/10/1917 The Bolsheviks decide to seize power #1917Live

In Petrograd authority is ebbing away from Provisional Government, with Kerensky‘s decrees being increasingly ignored. Meanwhile the advance of the German army is engendering a sense of crisis in the city, with some suggesting that Kerensky is deliberately abandoning the city to the enemy. In response to the crisis, the Petrograd Soviet at Trotsky‘s suggestion has agreed to form a military revolutionary committee, to coordinate the defence of the capital. However the committee is intended to defend as much if not more so against counter-revolutionary elements as against the Germans, which means that its efforts could be directed against the Provisional Government itself.

Trotsky’s Bolshevik colleagues are divided between those who think that the time is ripe for them to overthrow the Provisional Government and those who are more cautious. But Lenin is back in Petrograd now, having slipped back into the city from his refuge in Finland. At an impromptu meeting of the party’s central committee, Lenin’s call for the party to prepare for an armed seizure of power carries the day, with only Zinoviev and Kamenev voting against the party’s leader.

The proposal for armed insurrection is deliberately vague as to timing, with some thinking that it could just mean a revolt at some point next year or later. But the fuse has been lit: the Bolsheviks are now preparing to overthrow the Provisional Government.

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Lenin addresses the Central Committee, with Zinoviev standing to the left (Welt: Kim nahm sich ein Beispiel an Stalins Exekutionen)

16/10/1917 Enemy at the gates: Germany threatens Petrograd #1917Live

German forces have staged an amphibious landing on the islands of Estonia, outflanking Russian forces defending the approaches to Petrograd. Now the Russians abandon the city of Revel (known to the Estonians as Tallinn), fearing that it has become untenable.

Revel was the last bastion between the Germans and Petrograd. With the Germans threatening the capital, the Provisional Government investigates evacuating itself and key industries to Moscow. But to the Petrograd Soviet and the revolutionary activists in the city, it looks suspiciously like Kerensky’s government is planning to hand them over to the Germans. Perhaps Kerensky would prefer to let the Germans deal with the unruly city.

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Kerensky wonders what to do (1917 portrait by Isaac Brodsky) (Spartacus Educational: Alexander Kerensky)

8/10/1917 Trotsky elected chairman of the Petrograd Soviet’s executive

Things are just not going Kerensky‘s way. Russia’s prime minister has survived the attempted coup by Kornilov, the man he appointed to lead the army, but since then he has struggled to control events. Their role in resistance to Kornilov has rehabilitated the Bolsheviks: with the July Days unpleasantness now forgotten, Bolshevik leaders have been released from jail and there is even talk that Lenin may return to Petrograd from wherever he is hiding. Meanwhile the various armed popular committees that sprang into being to oppose Kornilov are refusing Kerensky’s orders to dissolve themselves, as is the revolutionary sailors’ committee in the Baltic Fleet.

In an attempt to revitalise his fortunes, Kerensky now reforms the Provisional Government. His latest cabinet has a majority of socialists, but the key posts are occupied by Kadets (Constitutional Democrats). Before the revolution the Kadets were considered dangerous radicals working to undermine Tsarist autocracy, but now the wheel has turned so far that to many they are sinister reactionaries, tainted by their reputed association with Kornilov’s failed coup. Kerensky’s continued fondness for including the Kadets in government further undermines his support amongst the workers’ organisations that had once enthusiastically backed him.

While Kerensky tries to reassert his authority political developments continue elsewhere. The executive of the Petrograd Soviet resigned after the council of workers and soldiers backed a Bolshevik resolution calling for a government responsible to it. Now a new executive is formed with a Bolshevik majority, headed by Leon Trotsky, the recently freed Bolshevik firebrand. The executive rejects Kerensky’s government and calls once more for a Soviet government.

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Leon Trotsky (in 1920) (Wikipedia: List of books by Leon Trotsky)

14/9/1917 The Petrograd Soviet swings behind the Bolsheviks #1917Live

Kornilov‘s coup against Kerensky‘s government has failed. Alexeev, Kerensky’s new army commander, takes over at the Mogilev headquarters. Kornilov is placed under arrest, albeit in very agreeable circumstances. Krimov, who had led his march on Petrograd, is less fortunate. After a fraught meeting with Kerensky, in which he accuses the prime minister of having betrayed Kornilov, Krimov shoots himself, believing Russia to be doomed.

Kerensky attempts to reassert his authority. In place of his recently dissolved cabinet, he forms a five man Directory headed (naturally) by himself. He declares Russia a socialist republic, formally ending he monarchy that everyone had forgotten about. He orders all militias to disarm. But the workers militias that formed in Petrograd to oppose Kornilov keep their weapons.

Russia is still in a chaotic state, gripped by agrarian and industrial unrest. And the Kornilov affair has weakened Kerensky. Conservatives hate him for failing to support the general. Others suspect him of intriguing with Kornilov before their rupture. With Kerensky’s support ebbing away leftwing groups like the Bolsheviks find themselves in the ascendant. Now the Petrograd Soviet for the first time has a Bolshevik majority. Today it agrees to a motion, proposed by the Bolshevik Kamenev, calling for the establishment of a Soviet government.

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A meeting of the Petrograd Soviet (Awful Avalanche: Biography of Bolshevik Leader Lev Kamenev)

9/9/1917 Russia’s Bonaparte? Kornilov marches on Petrograd #1917Live

Kerensky and Kornilov, his army commander, had been planning a crackdown in Russia, to return order to a country wracked by revolutionary chaos. But the prime minister has become afraid of his ambitious general. Now he is convinced that Kornilov is about to stage a coup of his own that will establish him as the Bonaparte of the Russian Revolution.

In the early hours of the morning Kerensky meets with his cabinet in an atmosphere of crisis. Desperate times require desperate measures, so Kerensky secures the resignation of his ministers, taking on emergency powers himself. He telegrams Kornilov informing him that he has been dismissed as army commander.

When Kornilov receives Kerensky’s telegram he is astonished. Despite their tensions, Kornilov had thought that he and Kerensky were working together to save Russia. Now Kornilov decides that there is only one possible explanation for this telegram: Kerensky is now a prisoner of the Bolsheviks, who have forced him to send it.

As a man of action, Kornilov knows what is to be done. He orders his men to march on Petrograd to free Kerensky from the sinister clutches of the Bolsheviks.

News of Kornilov’s move causes a sensation in Petrograd. The Soviet executive meets. Despite the hostility of some (especially the Bolsheviks) towards Kerensky and his government, it passes a motion calling for resistance to Kornilov’s putsch.

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Lavr Kornilov (Seventeen Moments in Soviet History: Kornilov Affair Images)

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)