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)

6/7/1917 Finland declares independence from Russia #1917Live

At the front, any hopes that the Kerensky Offensive will lead to a great victory are rapidly unravelling. Although the Russians are pushing back the Austro-Hungarians, the main effort against the Germans is coming badly unstuck and the stresses of battle are hastening the Russian army’s disintegration.

This reverse is not the only crisis facing the Provisional Government. Aside from the increasingly chaotic situation in the heart of the country, Russia is increasingly beset by separatist movements on the periphery. The Rada in Ukraine has already declared autonomy. Now the parliament of Finland goes one step further, today declaring independence for what had hitherto been a self-governing part of the Russian empire.

The Finnish declaration causes consternation in Petrograd. Both the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet are opposed to Finland’s unilateral declaration of independence. The Soviets resolve to persuade the Finns to revoke their declaration but the Provisional Government adopts a more forceful position, preparing to use force if necessary to keep Finland in the empire.

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The Grand Duchy of Finland (Wikipedia)

23/6/1917 Ukraine declares autonomy from Russia

Revolution has seen the various regions of Russia become more assertive in their rights. In Ukraine a local parliament, the Rada , has convened itself. Rada leaders have petitioned the Provisional Government to recognise Ukrainian autonomy but their demands have gone unheard by both Prince Lvov‘s government and the Petrograd Soviet, both of which argue that these questions cannot be resolved until the future convening of a Constituent Assembly.

Irked by Petrograd’s cold shouldering, the Rada leaders now issue a unilateral declaration of autonomy dubbed the First Universal. While the declaration stops short of declaring independence, the Rada leaders establish an executive under the leadership of V.K. Vinnichenko, which assumes authority over Ukraine.

The First Universal causes consternation in Petrograd. Prince Lvov accuses the Rada of seeking to “inflict a fatal blow on the state” while Soviet leaders denounce the Ukrainian nationalists for stabbing the Revolution in the back. But Petrograd appears unable to make its writ run in Ukraine.

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V.K. Vinnichenko (Wikipedia)

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.

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Demonstrating soldiers in Petrograd (World Socialist Web Site)