16/8/1917 The Bolsheviks adopt an ominous new slogan #1917Live

Since the Provisional Government survived the crisis of the July Days Kerensky has been steadily consolidating his power. He has taken over from Prince Lvov as Prime Minister and formed a new government. This has a majority of socialists but these are mostly from the less radical wings of their parties and they are in the government as individuals rather than representatives of their parties. Kerensky’s government is also no longer tied to the programmes of the Petrograd Soviet.

Kerensky has appointed Kornilov to head the army, now in a chaotic state following the failure of the recent offensive. Kornilov wants to restore order in the army through iron discipline and has become popular in conservative circles. He demands more powers from Kerensky.

The Bolsheviks meanwhile are on the back foot, their leaders in exile or on the run, with Lenin accused of being a German spy. However the party remains active and continues to look to the future. Its congress meets today and discusses the way forward. Following the failure of the Petrograd Soviet to accept power in July, they abandon the slogan “All power to the Soviets”. In its place they are now for “Complete Liquidation of the Dictatorship of the Counterrevolutionary Bourgeoisie”.

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Lenin in disguise (Marxist Internet Archive: Russian Revolution)

22/7/1917 Alexander Kerensky, Russia’s new Prime Minister #1917Live

The crackdown following the recent unrest in Petrograd sees the Bolsheviks in some disarray. They have been blamed for all the trouble, their leader Lenin denounced as a German spy. Senior Bolsheviks now languish in jail or lead a precarious existence on the run. Lenin himself and Zinoviev have fled to Finland, still part of the Russian Empire but a place in which it is easier for them to lie low.

Meanwhile the rise of Kerensky continues. The recent political turmoil has all been too much for Prince Lvov, who now resigns as head of the Provisional Government, naming Kerensky as his successor. This young man of destiny now sets about forming his new cabinet.

Pressing matters however must be dealt with immediately. The scale of the disaster following the recent failed offensive against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians is now increasingly apparent, with enemy advances continuing and the Russian army gripped be desertion and indiscipline. Kerensky acts in an effort to stem the flood. General Kornilov is appointed commander of the South Western Front, where the army’s disintegration is most pronounced. Kornilov is known to be a tough general of the old school; if anyone can restore order, it is him. Starting as he means to go on, Kornilov demands the reintroduction of the death penalty for deserters.

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Alexander Kerensky (Wikipedia)

Lavr Kornilov (Wikipedia)

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)

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)

6/6/1917 The revolutionary sailors of Kronstadt compromise

Outside Petrograd the Kronstadt naval base has repudiated the authority of Russia’s Provisional Government. The revolutionary sailors here see the government as a reactionary body attempting to hold back the Revolution.

The Kronstadt revolt puts Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, in an awkward position. Many of the Kronstadt sailors are supporters of the Bolsheviks. Lenin is also dismissive of the Provisional Government, but he feels that the time is not yet ripe for a move against it, fearing that a premature attempt at its overthrow would allow it to entrench the government in power.

Today Tsereteli, the Menshevik who has a foot in both the Provisional Government and the executive of the Petrograd Soviet, manages to agree a compromise with the Kronstadt sailors. They will end their formal repudiation of the Provisional Government. However, they will continue to elect their own commissar. The officers imprisoned at the start of the revolution remain in the custody of the sailors, despite the continuing efforts of Kerensky to secure their release. In practice Kronstadt remains outside the authority of the government.

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Kronstadt sailors later in 1917 (Libcom.org: Kronstadt 1917-21: The fate of a soviet democracy)

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.