Bolshevik-Inspired Uprising in Petrograd
The scene on the Nevsky Prospekt on July 17 soon after some of the few troops loyal to the Provisional Government fired on the crowd marching on the Tauride Palace.
July 16 1917, Petrograd–The garrison in Petrograd had been the vanguard of the revolution that overthrew the Czar. Since then, at the Soviet’s insistence, the garrison had remained unchanged; the garrison could be relied upon to defend the revolution from any reaction against it. The Provisional Government, however, was concerned that these soldiers were too radical and might try to rebel against them, as the sailors at Kronstadt had done. Using the Kerensky Offensive as an excuse, many radical elements of the garrison now had orders to depart for the front.
Many of these units were determined not to leave, and soon considered armed action against the Provisional Government. They were encouraged in this by the Bolshevik Military Organization and many Bolshevik-affiliated politicians (like Trotsky). The top Bolshevik leadership had urged patience, however, at least until the Kerensky Offensive was over–but in early July, Lenin himself was on vacation in Finland and could not provide direction himself.
On the morning of July 16, the soldiers took to the streets, and were soon joined by workers mobilized by the Red Guards. They congregated mostly around the Tauride Palace, seat of the Petrograd Soviet, hoping to encourage them to take power from the Provisional Government. The next day, the crowds grew as sailors arrived from Kronstadt. But the crowds were largely leaderless, and their cries of “All Power to the Soviets!” depended on the Soviets wanting to take power–which, apart from the Bolshevik minority, they were not.
Lenin arrived that day, but could not make up his mind on how to proceed. He addressed the Kronstadt sailors for a few moments, but did not say much beyond a few platitudes. As they marched towards the Tauride Palace, shots were fired and order broke down. The crowd could have easily taken the Palace, defended only by eighteen soldiers (fewer than the number of exterior doors). The Provisional Government was in hiding or, in the case of Kerensky, had already fled the city (in the guise of departing to inspect the front).
At around 5PM, it began to rain heavily and much of the crowd dispersed. However, a more committed core, led by the Kronstadt sailors, remained and began to enter the palace. They seized one of the leading Socialist Revolutionary members, Victor Chernov, with one man telling him: “Take power, you son of a bitch, when it’s handed to you!” Again, however, the Bolsheviks backed down, and Trotsky ordered Chernov to be released. Within an hour, a new regiment of soldiers arrived; they were unclear what they were supposed to do, apart from “defend the revolution.” With the lack of effective leadership from the Bolsheviks, the Soviet leadership soon persuaded them to serve as guards for the palace.
The uprising fizzled out on the 18th, as troops loyal to the Provisional Government began to arrive in the city. A warrant was issued for Lenin’s arrest, alleging that he was receiving funds from the Germans; he soon fled the city.
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Sources include: Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy.