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)

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)

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)