petrograd soviet

Lenin Arrives in Petrograd

Lenin’s arrival at the Finland Station, in a Stalin-era painting.  Note how Stalin is pictured above Lenin; he was not actually present, and in fact was not overly impressed by Lenin’s April Theses.

April 16 1917, Petrograd–After a long journey via Germany, the Baltic, Sweden, and Finland (then part of Russia), Lenin arrived by train in Petrograd shortly before midnight on April 16.  This happened to coincide with the last day of the All-Russian Bolshevik Conference, and they gave him a grand welcome at the train station, along with representatives of the Petrograd Soviet.  A band struck up the Marseillaise (not Lenin’s preferred Internationale) as revolutionary sailors stood at attention.

Lenin was not expecting this sort of reception, and gave a short impromptu speech in the waiting room of the station.  His fellow Bolsheviks soon escorted him outside the station, to an armored car that was to lead a procession to the conference.  Lenin went up onto the turret of the armored car, silhouetted by a electric light, and started an impassioned speech that continued as the armored car went along the streets of Petrograd.  The speech’s text is unknown; here is a short selection from his speech in the waiting room:

Any day now the whole of European capitalism may crash.  The Russian revolution accomplished by you has prepared the way and opened a new epoch.  Long live the worldwide socialist revolution!

At the meeting of the Bolsheviks that night, Lenin delivered a ninety-minute speech in a similar vein, starting at two in the morning.  He was convinced that the “second stage” of the revolution, in which the proletariat would take power.  He called for an immediate end to the war, and to not negotiate with the other liberal or socialist parties that merely called for a war without annexation.  “To demand of a government of capitalists that it should renounce annexations is a nonsense, a crying mockery.”  

The speech was not received well; most thought that Lenin’s urging for a continued revolution (even if he did acknowledge some patience might be required) were ill-thought-out at best.  Lenin had not been in the country for years, had not been present in February; even so, they thought, he still must have known that Russia was not ready for such a drastic step, which would only lead to reaction and counter-revolution.  Lenin recognized this attitude as his speech was winding down, and concluded: “You comrades have a trusting attitude to the government.  If that is so, our paths diverge.  I prefer to remain in a minority.” Lenin crystallized these thoughts in a short treatise, his April Theses, which were published in Pravda, after some delay, and with a note explaining that it did not represent the view of the rest of Petrograd’s Bolsheviks.

Earlier Today:  The Nivelle Offensive

Sources include: Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution; Catherine Meridale, Lenin on the Train.

March 15, 1917 - Tsar Nicholas II Abdicates

Pictured - The war claims its first sovereign.

The Tsar was in his train on March 15, waiting to get back to his capital. Revolutionaries had halted it on his way back to military headquarters at Mogilev, which forced him to take a longer way home through Pskov. That morning, however, he received a telegram from Mogilev. It was from the army’s Commander-in-Chief, General Alexeyev.

Alexeyev had gotten in touch with the Russian army’s generals and urged them to join him in asking the Tsar to abdicate. None of them dissented. General Brusilov was emphatic that abdication was the only way to save the monarchy and keep Russia in the war, and even the staunchly monarchist General Sakharov in Romania agreed. They knew their soldiers would cease fighting otherwise. The Tsar’s cousin Grand Duke Nicholas, the former Commander-in-Chief, wrote the same thing. At half past two in the afternoon, Alexeyev telegraphed what they had said to Pskov.

General Russky at Pskov went to see the Tsar armed with the telegrams. The Tsar looked over the messages for over a few moments; his cousin’s signature made the most impact. Without any discussion, he telegraphed back to Alexeyev: “In the name of the welfare, tranquility and salvation of my warmly beloved Russia I am ready to abdicate from the throne in favour of my son. I request all to serve him faithfully.”

So ended the Romanov dynasty’s 300-year rule over Russia. The first Romanov, Tsar Michael, had come to the throne in 1613. In Petrograd, the Duma moved into the Tauride Palace and officially formed the Provisional Government, but the Petrograd Soviet remained in session outside in a blatant challenge. The Tsar had given up his power lightly. Few of the revolutionaries would do the same.

Provisional Government Losing Control of Enlisted Soldiers

April 21 1917, Petrograd–The revolution in Russia had removed the Czar and most of the useless royalty from the military.  The Provisional Government was now on paper the ultimate authority in the country, but was finding it had little power in practice.  In late March, War Minister Guchkov wrote to Alexeyev:

The Provisional Government does not yield any real power and its orders are carried only to the extent allowed by the Soviet…the troops, railroads, postal service, and telegraph are in its hands.  I can say directly that the Provisional Government only exists so long as the Soviet allows it to.

The order from the Petrograd Soviet that had reached the troops the most was Order No. 1, which let soldiers form their own committees that would have final say over the use of military equipment.  It has often been misinterpreted as letting soldiers let their own officers–and this was a misinterpretation common at the time.  On April 21, Guchkov had to explicitly order that the election of officers was forbidden.  This did little to ease relations between officers and soldiers, or to strengthen officers’ authority.  In some cases, officers were so afraid of their own men that they committed suicide.

With the breakdown in military and political authority came an increase in desertion.  Between the two revolutions in 1917, over 2 million soldiers deserted.  Guchkov recognized this fact, and on the same day gave blanket amnesty to deserters, provided they returned to their units by May 14; it is unlikely this was effective.

Sources include: Randal Gray, Chronicle of the First World War; David R. Stone, The Russian Army in the Great War.

March 31, 1917 - Vladimir Lenin Decides to Return to Russia

Pictured - Red wave.

On March 27, the Petrograd Soviet called on soldiers and workers to protest the Provisional Government and its continuation of the war. Soon, they would have a leader capable of making the Soviet the only power in Russia. Four days later, Vladimir Lenin decided to leave the Swiss exile he had been living for over a decade and return to Russia. The German government approved Lenin and agreed to his transit via Germany, Sweden, and Finland, back to Petrograd. A revolutionary like that, though the Germans, could stir up more trouble in Russia and lead them out of the war.

anonymous asked:

I was thinking of writing a story where there's a successful coup, but the new government is failing and one of the top coup supporters turns on the new leader, I'm sure this has happened but can't think of any examples. Can you recommend any events or people to research for reference?

There are a few examples; one that comes to mind is the February Revolution in Russia and the subsequent October revolution which took place the same year in 1917. The February revolution overthrew the tsar and installed a provisional government that shared power with the Petrograd Soviet (which was the military, simply put). The Bolsheviks were not happy with the government and only months later made a coup, lead by Lenin, and in 1922 the USSR (The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic) was formed.

If you feel like that’s not exactly what you’re looking for, here is a long list of coups d’état. Hope you find what your are looking for!

Signed, Captain.

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Petrograd Soviet Appoints Commissars to Military Units

April 1 1917, Petrograd–The revolutionary leaders in the Petrograd Soviet were well-steeped in European revolutionary history, especially that of the French.  Although the revolution had survived its first weeks successfully, they knew its long-term success would depend on enlisting the support of the Army, so that the Petrograd-based revolution would not be overturned by an army composed primarily of peasants.  This was the impetus behind the infamous “Order No. 1,” which gave the soldiers of the Petrograd garrison representation in the Soviet, and which was generally interpreted as giving the enlisted men of the army essential veto power over officers’ military decisions.

To ensure the continued loyalty of the Army, the Soviet also began on April 1 to send political commissars to serve in military units, representing the Soviets.  This was not a new innovation; the French had done the same in 1792.  The commissars would also help to resolve any disputes that would arise between the soldiers (acting under the authority of Order No. 1) and the officers (as their commanders). The Soviet also decided, around the same time, to commit to the continued fighting of the war, albeit one without aims of imperial conquest.  It was hoped that the commissars would help raise morale and keep units together and in fighting condition.  This would have limited effectiveness; around a million soldiers deserted the army over the course of the Provisional Governement’s rule, and officers lived in continual fear of their own men.  The Bolsheviks, who would take advantage of the soldiers’ desire for the end of the war, would eventually make great use of the system of commissars set up by the Petrograd Soviet, however.

Sources include: Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution; Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy.

Fans of Archer may have noted some familiar elements in the post earlier today; for everyone else, I’ll hope you grant me my yearly indulgence.  The leading paragraphs are largely correct, if pushed up by a few days; major Allied air operations near Arras did not begin until April 4.  I may have more complete (and non-fictional) coverage of Bloody April later in the month.

Today in 1916: Allies Divide Mediterranean into Zones
Today in 1915: April Fools’ Day 1915

April 27, 1917 - Lenin Takes Charge of Petrograd Soviet

Pictured - Lenin’s influential April Theses were also published this month, calling on the soviets to take power. 

Two parallel governments continued to exist in the Russian capital of Petrograd: the war-making Provisional Government, and the anti-war soldiers’ and workers’ Soviet. The anti-war movement was gaining strength, not only at home, but also on the front lines, where some Russian divisions were now openly fraternizing with the Germans and Austrians. When the British attaché to the Russian army, Colonel Knox, suggested that the fraternizers be shot, the Assistant Minister of War told him that the army did not dare. When reinforcements were being sent to the front, only handfuls showed up. The rest deserting along the way. The Russian government’s power was shrinking fast.

Things got worse for them with Lenin’s arrival in Petrograd. The charismatic Bolshevik took charge of the city Soviet and adopted a fire-eating tone. “Peace, land, bread, all power to the soviets!” cheered the crowds. On April 24 the sailors at Kronstadt declared their support for the Bolsheviks. Yet in the city life went on. “Theatres and cabarets remained open,” wrote the historian John Wheeler-Bennett. “The ballet season was in full swing, with Karsavina enchanting her public, while at the opera Chaliapin had never been in better voice.”

Тарелка «Кто не работает, тот не ест». Адамович М.М., Альтман Н.И. 1922 г. Государственный фарфоровый завод. Петроград.

Painted plate “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat”. M. Adamovich, N. Altman, 1922. State Porcelain Factory. Petrograd.

March 14, 1917 - February Revolution: Tsar’s Train Stopped by Revolutionaries, Petograd Soviet Issues Order No. 1, No Saluting Officers Off-Duty and All Weapons Must be Given to Elected Soldiers’ Committees

Pictured - Power to the people! The Red Guards of Vulkan Factory, Petrograd.

Revolutionaries halted the Tsar’s train on March 14 as it approached the capital from Mogilev, the military headquarters where he had been staying. Inside the city, street-fighting continued between revolutionaries and the few soldiers and policemen who had remained loyal to the Tsar. There were already two distinct revolutionary movements in the city claiming to hold predominance. One was the Provisional Government, formed from members of the Duma. The other was the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, composed mostly of radical Mensheviks and Bolsheviks.

That day, the Provisional Government had ordered the soldiers to return to their barracks, lest the situation get too out of hand. Skeptical of the Provisional Government and particularly of head deputy, Mikhail Rodzianko, a conservative with ties to the Tsar, the Soviet issued it’s own Order No. 1: all weapons should be turned over to elected committees of soldiers, and they should only follow orders from officers who could be trusted to follow the Revolution. Military discipline would be maintained, but democratized, and soldiers should no longer salute their officers when off-duty, and refer to them as “Sir,” rather than the traditional “Your Excellency.”

March 20, 1917 - Russian Provisional Government Vows to Stay in the War

Pictured - A double-headed eagles holds a scroll reading “Enlightenment,” while the banner at the bottom is the founding date of the Provisional Government. Inside the shield reads “This is what makes Russia strong.”

Russia’s new democratic government immediately set to work ending the worst abuses of the Tsarist regime, releasing prisoners from the gulags and curbing Russia’s aristocracy. But even these reforms could not placate many die-hard revolutionaries, especially when the government promised to remain in the war against Germany, honoring Russia’s commitments and debts to the Allies.

Petrograd’s rival center of power, the Petrograd Soviet, immediately decried the decision. So too did Lenin when he heard, still in his Swiss exile. A new slogan emerged in the capital city: “All Power to the Soviets!” The government’s Foreign Minister, Paul Miliukov, ignored their protests and vowed Russia’s commitment to the Allies. “She will fight by their side against a common enemy until the end, without cessation and without faltering.” The former Tsar too went to military headquarters at Mogilev and told the troops there to be loyal to the Provisional Government and the prosecution of the war. Their commitments were huge relief to the British and French, who feared a Russian withdrawal that would allow the Central Powers to turn all their might against the Western Front.

Revolution in Petrograd

Revolutionaries firing on Petrograd police headquarters.

March 12 1917, Petrograd–The demonstrations in Petrograd on International Women’s Day had grown over the following days.  The Czar, who was still at Stavka, decided that order needed to be restored by force, rather than any concessions, and on the 26th Petrograd was effectively under military occupation.  Despite this, people still converged on Nevsky Prospekt in the afternoon, and in multiple instances the poorly-trained troops fired on the crowds.  At Znamenskaya Square, over 50 people were killed.  While this dispersed some of the crowds, it emboldened others.  More importantly, it made the stakes incredibly clear to the soldiers in Petrograd; a restoration of order would require much more violence than had been seen on Sunday.

That night, soldiers in many of the regiments in the capital, most of whom were peasant recruits, debated what they should do the next day.  In the regiment that had been involved in the massacre at Znamenskaya recalled:

I told them that it would be better to die with honor than to obey any further orders to shoot at the crowds: “Our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and brides are begging for bread,” I said.  “Are we going to kill them?  Did you see the blood on the streets today?  I say we shouldn’t take up positions tomorrow.  I myself refuse to go.”  And, as one, the soldiers cried out: “We shall stay with you!”

In the wee hours of March 27, the soldiers of a different regiment, the Pavlovsky, voted to disobey any future orders to fire on civilians.  A revolt by one company the previous afternoon had been met with relative leniency, and the other men realized that imperial authority was crumbling.  They probably did not intend to start a general mutiny, but after a confrontation with their senior officers turned violent, they and several nearby regiments turned out into the streets and joined up with the workers.

Over the course of the day, half of the garrison of 160,000 men joined the mutiny, while most of the remainder remained in their barracks.  The soldiers and people fought against the police, seized government buildings, and opened prisons.  By nightfall, the mutineers were in control of all but a few buildings in the city.

The speed of the revolution took all observers by surprise, even self-proclaimed revolutionary politicians.  Scrambling to catch up to events, Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries quickly formed a Petrograd Soviet in one of the wings of the Tauride Palace to organize the workers; they were soon joined by representatives of the other Socialist parties.  In the other wing of the palace, the Duma had been dissolved by the Czar the previous night, and remained paralyzed.  With the revolution in control of the streets, and the Soviet quickly setting themselves up as a possible authority, some members of the Duma formed a “Temporary Committee of Duma Members for the Restoration of Order in the Capital and the Establishment of Relations with Individuals and Institutions,” and then that evening proclaimed themselves to be the ultimate authority in Petrograd.

At Stavka, the Czar slowly learned the gravity of the situation in the capital.  All of his advisors, and even his wife, urged him to make immediate concessions, handing over most civilian authority to the Duma.  They thought this would prevent the spread of disorder, and would hopefully bring the soldiers back to the government’s side.  However, the Czar refused to give up his god-given authority, and believed the mutiny could still be crushed by force.  He brought General Ivanov out of effective retirement, and ordered him to proceed to Petrograd with reinforcements and restore order.

Today in 1916: Admiral Tirpitz Resigns
Today in 1915: German Counterattack at Neuve-Chapelle

Sources include: Jonathan Sanders, Russia 1917 [includes image credit]; Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy; Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution.

Lenin Unveils Liebknecht and Luxemburg Monument (1920)

Vladimir I. Lenin at the unveiling of a monument to German revolutionaries Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg on the first anniversary of their murders. Palace Square, Petrograd, 1920.

Photo by Victor Bulla

anonymous asked:

I'm new to leftism and still reading around. One of the most popular arguments made by Leninists is that anarchist critique of Lenin does not take into account the material conditions the Bolsheviks find themselves in. Would you mind addressing that?

Sure! You do often hear this, although it’s just as often rather sketchy as to what exctly the material conditions justified, and even more sketchy is the basis for the idea that dealing with these difficult material conditions should have been the sole responsibility of the Bolshevik party. The Bolsheviks were not the most popular revolutionary party during the revolution, and at no point were they given a mandate to institute a single party dictatorship by the Russian people. Even the high level of popularity they had among the proletariat (roughly 10% of the population) didn’t last until the end of 1918. There was a wave of strikes and protests across the industral centres in 1918, and if you look at the resolutions passed by those revolutionary workers, it’s obvious that Bolshevik policies were deeply unpopular - for example the strike at the Putilov plant in Petrograd, where the demands were things like the unbanning of socialist newspapers, an end to summary executions by the Cheka, freeing of SR prisoners etc.

The vast majority of Bolshevik party members worked in offices as administrators, in factories they couldn’t even count on votes, shown by the fact that Bolsheviks actually altered the makeup of the Petrograd soviet to allow for less factory representation in the elections in summer 1918, as well as employing widespread voter intimidation and electoral fraud. The number of party members in Petrograd plummeted - from 50,000 in October 1917 to 3000 in September 1918. (There were many reasons for this, including party members being sent elsewhere etc, but it still shows pretty clearly the absence of a mandate to rule)

In 1918 the Cheka spent their time breaking strikes, arresting strike leaders, putting down street protests…during the Obukhov plant strike, the Bolsheviks just closed down the plant and fired every single worker - ironically they drafted 300 sailors from Kronstadt to go and disarm these workers by the way - the Kronstadt sailors were still loyal to them at this point. They remained loyal until after the white armies had been defeated, and only then did they leave the party in their thousands and begin pressing for a return to genuine soviet democracy.

The fact is that Bolshevik policies made the “difficult material conditions” worse, not better. The insensification of coercive labour practices after the civil war was effectively over in 1920 did not have the desired effect of boosting productivity, it had the opposite effect. Factory discipline broke down completely and in 1920-21 there was another wave of strikes, involving 77% of all medium and large scale enterprises in the country. War communism was an abject failure, so I never understand the argument that it was justified due to adverse conditions, it created adverse conditions, and had a lot of working class people shot for not working hard enough in the process.