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)

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)