2/12/1917 Using unconventional methods, the Bolsheviks assert their power over the State Bank and the army

The Bolsheviks continue to consolidate their position. Striking civil servants are still a problem for the new regime. Many of Russia’s officials are opposed to the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power and have been on strike in protest. By now though the strikes are declining in effectiveness as enough civil servants return to work in order for some semblance of orderly public administration to progress.

One area where the Bolsheviks have had particular problems is the State Bank, whose staff have refused to obey the orders of Sovnarkom, the Soviet government. This puts the Bolsheviks in an awkward position, as it prevents them from paying their supporters. Finally though the situation is resolved by the removal at gun point of the State Bank’s cash reserves.

Another pole of opposition to the Bolsheviks is the army. Lenin has sent an order to all units to elect their own representatives to conduct local armistice negotiations with the Germans. Dukhonin, the acting army commander, has attempted to prevent this order reaching frontline troops. Dukhonin’s efforts are thwarted by the Germans, who have themselves retransmitted Lenin’s order, hoping to speed the disintegration of the Russian army.

Lenin decides that he has had enough of Dukhonin. He is dismissed and Krylenko, the Sovnarkom war commissar, heads to army headquarters at Mogilev to replace him. But when Krylenko arrives, Dukhonin is dead. An angry crowd of soldiers had attacked the general, accusing him of organising the release from captivity of Kornilov. Dukhonin is beaten to death and his body reportedly used for target practice.
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State Bank employees demonstrate in support of the Constituent Assembly (St Petersburg Encyclopaedia: Constituent Assembly, All-Russian)

Nikolai Dukhonin (World War 1: November 22, 1917 – Bolsheviks Begin Armistice Talks with Central Powers)

25/11/1917 Russia votes for a Constituent Assembly #1917Live

The position of the Bolsheviks in Russia is now more secure. The fighting in Moscow has come to an end with the defeat of the their opponents. In Petrograd Sovnarkom is taking over the organs of central government, breaking the civil servants’ strike that initially paralysed their administration.

The Bolsheviks feel secure enough to allow voting to begin today to elect an assembly to draw up a constitution for Russia. The size of the country means that voting will take place on a staggered basis over the next two weeks. Elections to the Constituent Assembly kept being postponed by the Provisional Government, so much so that the Bolsheviks accused Kerensky of planning to cancel them completely. The still precarious nature of Lenin’s regime means that he must now go ahead with the elections.

The vote for the Constituent Assembly is the first democratic election in Russia’s history; even women are voting, something that is still only being considered in other countries. The problem with free elections of course is that people do not always vote in accordance with their objective class interests. Nevertheless, Lenin hopes that the Bolsheviks and their allies in the Left-SRs will win a majority, thereby vindicating his seizure of power.

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Election poster, I think for the Socialist Revolutionaries (Saint Petersburg Encyclopaedia: Constituent Assembly, All-Russian)

17/11/1917 The Bolsheviks tighten their grip on power #1917Live

The Bolsheviks have seen off Kerensky‘s attempt to overthrow their government in Petrograd. They are beginning to break the civil servants’ strike that hampered their takeover of the administrative organs of central government. And the military situation is also improving in Moscow, where anti-Bolshevik forces are now being pushed back relentlessly. Nevertheless, the Bolsheviks’ situation remains precarious and they are acutely aware that they could rapidly find themselves as impotent and marginalised as Kerensky’s Provisional Government was in its last days.

When the Bolsheviks established their Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom), they declared it to be a Soviet government, responsible to the Soviet Executive. Now however Sovnarkom declares itself able to pass emergency legislation without the Soviet’s approval.The Soviet Executive votes narrowly to accept its effective marginalisation.

Within the Bolsheviks there is some disquiet at the direction the party is heading. Moderates, including Zinoviev and Kamenev, resign from the party’s central committee in protest at the suppression of the opposition press and Sovnarkom’s sidelining of the Soviet (Kamenev also resigns as chair of the Soviet Executive). None of this overly concerns Lenin. Let his moderate comrades have their protest; he knows they will come back into the fold soon enough.

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Moscow scene (Russia Travel Blog: Moscow destroyed by the Bolsheviks in the autumn 1917) This link features some fascinating pictures of central Moscow in late 1917.

12/11/1917 As the Bolsheviks’ situation improves, Kerensky departs the stage #1917Live

Lenin‘s Bolsheviks seized power easily in Petrograd but Moscow has proved a tougher nut to crack, with forces loyal to the ousted Provisional Government continuing to resist there. Even in Petrograd the rule of the Bolsheviks remains shaky, with a civil servants’ strike hampering Lenin’s commissars in their takeover of public administration while activists from other left parties grumble at the Bolshevik seizure of power.

Kerensky, the former prime minister, fled the capital as the Bolsheviks replaced his Provisional Government with Sovnarkom, the Council of People’s Commissars. He has found some loyalist troops and sends them to smash the Bolsheviks in Petrograd. But if there is a tide in the affairs of men it has well and truly gone out for Kerensky. A rising by anti-Bolshevik troops within Petrograd is easily suppressed and Kerensky’s force is blocked outside the capital by a revolutionary militia. Fearing that his soldiers will now hand him over to the Bolsheviks, Kerensky disguises himself as a sailor and flees.

The situation in Moscow also begins to improve for the Bolsheviks, with more of the city centre coming under their control. Perhaps Lenin’s government is not about to collapse after all. The world may soon see what a truly revolutionary regime guided by Marxism is able to accomplish.

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Fighting in Moscow (Russia Travel Blog: Moscow destroyed by the Bolsheviks in the autumn 1917) This link features some fascinating pictures of central Moscow in late 1917.

9/11/1917 The embattled Bolshevik government decrees land reform, bans the opposition press #1917Live

The Bolsheviks have overthrown the Provisional Government and established their own revolutionary government, the Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom). One the new government’s first steps was to issue a land reform decree, written by Lenin himself, handing over to village communities church and crown lands and land held by private landlords, without the payment of any compensation. This popular measure has been introduced partly to appeal to the left faction of the Socialist Revolutionaries, on whose support the Bolsheviks are currently dependent. As word of this decree filters out across the country it leads to a renewed wave of desertions by soldiers who are keen to return home to take advantage of the land redistribution.

But for now Russia remains in such a chaotic state that the writ of Sovnarkom runs only in Petrograd itself. Even there they are having problems assuming the reins of power, as a civil servants’ strike is paralysing public administration. In Moscow the Bolsheviks have been even less successful in their seizure of power, with fighting continuing in the central district. Today the Bolsheviks suffer a reverse as forces loyal to the Provisional Government evict them from the Kremlin. Perhaps in response to this crisis, Sovnarkom takes the extreme step of banning opposition newspapers. This ban covers not just the papers of rightwing parties like the Kadets but also those of other socialist groups.

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Lenin addressing the Congress of Soviets (Jacobin: From February to October)

7/11/1917 The Bolsheviks seize power in Petrograd #1917Live

In the early hours of the morning the Bolshevik central committee meets. Yesterday’s failed crackdown by Kerensky has swung the Bolshevik leaders behind Lenin‘s call for an immediate seizure of power. As the day progresses troops and militia loyal to the Bolsheviks fan out across Petrograd and seize key points. By the evening the Provisional Government remains in the Winter Palace, surrounded by revolutionary troops and defended by an ever-dwindling band of loyalists.

The All-Russian Soviet Congress is meeting in Petrograd. It appears to be in favour of formation of a Soviet government, but one representing all revolutionary parties. But a walk-out by the Mensheviks and right faction of the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) leaves the Bolsheviks with a clear majority, thanks to the support of the left faction of the SRs. Trotsky scoffs at those who have left, consigning them to the “dustbin of history”.

In the Winter Palace, shelling from a Bolshevik gunboat causes the collapse of loyalist resistance. The Bolsheviks storm the building and arrest the Provisional Government, but not Kerensky who has somehow slipped out of the city. The former ministers are thrown into the cells of the Peter & Paul Fortress used previously to house the Tsar’s enemies.
While all this is happening the normal life of the city remains curiously unaffected. The trams continue to run and shops and theatres remain open. Opera performances take place that evening and upmarket restaurants continue to serve their clients, though the journalist John Reed reports being asked to move to a dining room at the back of his hotel for fear of stray bullets coming in the front.

Nevertheless, the Bolsheviks have now seized power, in Petrograd at least. They call their government the Council of People’s Commissars, abbreviated in Russian to Sovnarkom.

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Red guards storm the Winter Palace (1920 re-enactment) (Wikipedia)

Red guards in the Winter Palace, by Ivan Vladimirov (Alpha History: the October Revolution)

Bolsheviks storm the Winter Palace in Sergei Eisenstein’s October (1928)

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)