|Russia||Russian Revolution||Soviet Union 1920-45|
When Nicholas II abdicated on 13th March, a Provisional Government, headed by Prince George Lvov, was formed. Members of the Cabinet included Paul Miliukov, leader of the Cadet Party, was Foreign Minister, Alexander Guchkov, Minister of War, Alexander Kerensky, Minister of Justice and Peter Struve, Ministry of Trade.
The Petrograd Soviet recognized the authority of the Provisional Government in return for its willingness to carry out eight measures. This included the full and immediate amnesty for all political prisoners and exiles; freedom of speech, press, assembly, and strikes; the abolition of all class, group and religious restrictions; the election of a Constituent Assembly by universal secret ballot; the substitution of the police by a national militia; democratic elections of officials for municipalities and townships and the retention of the military units that had taken place in the revolution that had overthrown Nicholas II.
In May, 1917, Alexander Kerensky became Minister of War and appointed General Alexei Brusilov as the Commander in Chief of the Russian Army. He toured the Eastern Front where he made a series of emotional speeches where he appealed to the troops to continue fighting. On 18th June, Kerensky announced a new war offensive. Encouraged by the Bolsheviks, who favoured peace negotiations, there were demonstrations against Kerensky in Petrograd.
The Provisional Government made no real attempt to seek an armistice with the Central Powers. Lvov's unwillingness to withdraw Russia from the First World War made him unpopular with the people and on 8th July, 1917, he resigned and was replaced by Alexander Kerensky.
Kerensky was still the most popular man in the government because of his political past. In the Duma he had been leader of the moderate socialists and had been seen as the champion of the working-class. However, Kerensky, like George Lvov, was unwilling to end the war. In fact, soon after taking office, he announced a new summer offensive.
Soldiers on the Eastern Front were dismayed at the news and regiments began to refuse to move to the front line. There was a rapid increase in the number of men deserting and by the autumn of 1917 an estimated 2 million men had unofficially left the army.
Some of these soldiers returned to their homes and used their weapons to seize land from the nobility. Manor houses were burnt down and in some cases wealthy landowners were murdered. Kerensky and the Provisional Government issued warnings but were powerless to stop the redistribution of land in the countryside.
After the failure of the July Offensive on the Eastern Front, Kerensky replaced General Alexei Brusilov with General Lavr Kornilov, as Supreme Commander of the Russian Army. The two men soon clashed about military policy. Kornilov wanted Kerensky to restore the death-penalty for soldiers and to militarize the factories.
On 7th September, Lavr Kornilov demanded the resignation of the Cabinet and the surrender of all military and civil authority to the Commander in Chief. Kerensky responded by dismissing Kornilov from office and ordering him back to Petrograd.
Kornilov now sent troops under the leadership of General Krymov to take control of Petrograd. Kerensky was now in danger and so he called on the Soviets and the Red Guards to protect Petrograd. The Bolsheviks, who controlled these organizations, agreed to this request, but in a speech made by their leader, Vladimir Lenin, he made clear they would be fighting against Kornilov rather than for Kerensky.
Within a few days Bolsheviks had enlisted 25,000 armed recruits to defend Petrograd. While they dug trenches and fortified the city, delegations of soldiers were sent out to talk to the advancing troops. Meetings were held and Kornilov's troops decided to refuse to attack Petrograd. General Krymov committed suicide and Kornilov was arrested and taken into custody.
Kerensky now became the new Supreme Commander of the Russian Army. His continued support for the war effort made him unpopular in Russia and on 8th October, Kerensky attempted to recover his left-wing support by forming a new coalition that included more Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. However, with the Bolsheviks controlling the Soviets, and now able to call on 25,000 armed militia, Kerensky was unable to reassert his authority.
On 7th November, Kerensky was informed that the Bolsheviks were about to seize power. He decided to leave Petrograd and try to get the support of the Russian Army on the Eastern Front. Later that day the Red Guards stormed the Winter Palace and members of the Kerensky's cabinet were arrested. The Provisional Government was now replaced by an administration headed by Vladimir Lenin.
(1) Robert Bruce Lockhart, report sent to the British government (27th March, 1917)
So far the people of Moscow have behaved with exemplary restraint. For the moment, only enthusiasm prevails, and the struggle which is almost bound to ensure between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat has not yet made its bitterness felt.
The Socialist Party is at present divided into two groups: the Social Democrats and Soviet Revolutionaries. The activities of the first named are employed almost entirely among the work people, while the Social Revolutionaries work mainly among the peasantry.
The Social Democrats, who are the largest party, are, however, divided into two groups known as the Bolsheviki and the Mensheviki. The bolsheviki are the more extreme party. They are at heart anti-war. In Moscow at any rate the Mensheviki represent today the majority and are more favourable to the war.
(2) Harold Williams, Daily Chronicle (17th March, 1917)
The composition of the new government is extraordinarily moderate in the circumstances. There has been, and still is, danger from extremists, who want at once to turn Russia into a Socialist republic and have been agitating amongst soldiers, but reason has been reinforced by a sense of danger from the Germans and the lingering forces of reaction gaining the upper hand.
In numberless talks I have had with soldiers I have been struck by their fundamental reasonableness, their sense of order and discipline. They wish to be free men, but very strongly realize their duty as soldiers. The more moderate Socialists, the so-called Plekhanov party, who stand for war, are very useful as mediators, and as soon as the new Government secures its ground the influence of the extremists will be diminished.
(3) John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World (1919)
The policy of the Provisional Government alternated between ineffective reforms and stern repressive measures. An edict from the Socialist Minister of Labour ordered all the Workers' Committees henceforth to meet only after working hours. Among the troops at the front, 'agitators' of opposition political parties were arrested, radical newspapers closed down, and capital punishment applied - to revolutionary propagandists. Attempts were made to disarm the Red Guard. Cossacks were spent order in the provinces.
In September 1917, matters reached a crisis. Against the overwhelming sentiment of the country, Kerensky and the 'moderate' Socialists succeeded in establishing a Government of Coalition with the propertied classes; and as a result, the Mensheviki and Socialist Revolutionaries lost the confidence of the people for ever.
Week by week food became scarcer. The daily allowance of bread fell from a pound and a half to a pound, than three-quarters, half, and a quarter-pound. Towards the end there was a week without any bread at all. Sugar one was entitled to at the rate of two pounds a month - if one could get it at all, which was seldom. A bar of chocolate or a pound of tasteless candy cost anywhere from seven to ten roubles - at least a dollar. For milk and bread and sugar and tobacco one had to stand in queue. Coming home from an all-night meeting I have seen the tail beginning to form before dawn, mostly women, some babies in their arms.
(4) Statement issued by the Petrograd Soviet (9th April, 1917)
We are appealing to our brother proletarians of the Austro-German coalition. The Russian Revolution will not retreat before the bayonets of conquerors and will not allow itself to be crushed by military force. But we are calling to you, throw off your yoke of your semi-autocratic rule as the Russian people have shaken off the Tsar's and then by our united efforts we will stop the horrible butchery which is disgracing humanity and is beclouding the great days of the birth of Russian freedom. Proletarians of all countries unite.
(5) Maxim Gorky, letter to his son (April, 1917)
Remember, the revolution just began, it will last for a long time. We won not because we are strong, but because the government was weak. We have made a political revolution and have to reinforce our conquest. I am a social democrat, but I am saying and will continue to say, that the time has not come for socialist-style reforms. The new government has inherited not a state but its ruins.
(6) Paul Milyukov, Foreign Minister of the Provisional Government, letter sent to all Allied ambassadors (5th May, 1917)
Free Russia does not aim at the domination of other nations, or at occupying by force foreign territories. Its aim is not to subjugate or humiliate anyone. In referring to the "penalties and guarantees" essential to a durable peace the Provisional Government had in view reduction of armaments, the establishment of international tribunals, etc.
(7) Harold Williams, Daily Chronicle (22nd March, 1917)
Kerensky is a young man in his early thirties, of medium height, with a slight stoop, and a quick, alert movement, with brownish hair brushed straight up, a broad forehead already lined, a sharp nose, and bright, keen eyes, with a certain puffiness in the lids due to want of sleep, and a pale, nervous face tapering sharply to the chin. His whole bearing was that of a man who could control masses.
He was dressed in a grey, rather worn suit, with a pencil sticking out of his breast pocket. He greeted us with a very pleasant smile, and his manner was simplicity itself. He led us into his study, and there we talked for an hour. We discussed the situation thoroughly, and I got the impression that Kerensky was not only a convinced and enthusiastic democrat, ready to sacrifice his life if need be for democracy - that I already knew from previous acquaintance - but that he had a clear, broad perception of the difficulties and dangers of the situation, and was preparing to meet them.
(8) E. H. Wilcox was very impressed with Alexander Kerensky and praised him in his book, Russia's Ruin (1919)
Kerensky became the personification of everything that was good and noble in Russia. He was no longer the leader of the political Party, but the prophet of a new faith, the high priest of a new doctrine, which were to embrace all Russia, all mankind. Whatever he may have been before or after, during this dazzling and intoxicating interlude he had in him true elements of greatness.
(9) Robert Wilton, The Times (19th March, 1917)
I regret to have to say that some students of both sexes are blindly cooperating in this anarchistic propaganda. However, today the outlook is distinctly more hopeful and it is possible that a breach between the extremists and the moderates may be avoided, both agreeing to support the present Temporary Government until a Constituent Assembly decides the fate of Russia by the votes of all her 170 million people. The organization of this gigantic general election will naturally take time.
(10) General Peter Wrangel went to St. Petersburg after the February Revolution and the creation of the Provisional Government.
The first thing I noticed in Petersburg was the profusion of red ribbon. Everyone was decorated with it, not only soldiers, but students, chauffeurs, cab-drivers, middle-class folk, women, children, and many officers. Men of some account, such as old generals and former aides-de-camp to the Tsar, wore it too.
I expressed my astonishment to an old comrade of mine at seeing him thus adorned. He tried to laugh it off, and said jokingly: "Why, my dear fellow, don't you know that it's the latest fashion?"
I considered this ridiculous adornment absolutely useless. Throughout my stay in the capital I wore the Tsarevich's badge, the distinguishing mark of my old regiment, on my epaulettes, and, of course, I wore no red rag.
(11) Albert Rhys Williams described the arrival of troops to put down the Bolshevik uprising in July, 1917, in his book, Through the Russian Revolution.
On the third day the troops arrive. Bicycle battalions, the reserve regiments, and then the long grim lines of horsemen, the sun glancing on the tips of their lances. They are the Cossacks, ancient foes of the revolutionists, bring dread to the workers and the joy to the bourgeoisie. The avenues are filled now with well-dressed throngs cheering the Cossacks, crying "Shoot the rabble". "String up the Bolsheviks".
A wave of reaction runs through the city. Insurgent regiments are disarmed. The death penalty is restored. The Bolshevik papers are suppressed. Forged documents attesting the Bolsheviks as German agents are handled to the press. Leaders like Trotsky and Kollontai are thrown into prison. Lenin and Zinoviev are driven into hiding. In all quarters sudden seizures, assaults and murder of workingmen.
(12) In his book, My Reminiscences of the Russian Revolution (1969), Morgan Philips Price described the demonstrations that took place in Russia on 1st May, 1917.
I do not think I ever saw a more impressive spectacle than on this occasion. It was not merely a labour demonstration, although every socialist party and workmen's union in Russia was represented there, from anarcho-syndicalists to the most moderate of the middle-class democrats. It was not merely an international demonstration, although every nationality of what had been the Russian Empire was represented there with its flag and inscription in some rare, strange tongue, from the Baltic Finns to the Tunguses of Siberia. The First of May celebration, 1917, in Petrograd and throughout the length and breadth of Russia was really a great religious festival, in which the whole human race was invited to commemorate the brotherhood of man. Revolutionary Russia had a message to the world, and was telling it across the roar of the cannons and the din of battle.
(13) Edward T. Heald, letter to his wife (2nd May, 1917)
The sudden burst of radical propaganda, which has developed during the past week, is attributed to a man named Lenin who has just arrived from Switzerland. He came through Germany, and rumour is that he was banqueted by Emperor Wilhelm. As he entered the country through Finland, he harangued the soldiers and workingmen along the way with the most revolutionary propaganda. One of the Americans who came through on the same train told us how disheartening it was. Lenin's first words when he got off the train at Petrograd were "Hail to the Civil war." God knows what a task the Provisional Government has on hand without adding the trouble that such a firebrand can create.
(14) Arthur Ransome was in Russia during the October Revolution.
Before the end of August it was obvious that there would be a Bolshevik majority in the Soviets that would be reflected in the composition of the Executive Committee. During the 'July Days' the weakness of the Government had been manifest. Kerensky had been weakened by the double failure, military and diplomatic, disasters in Galicia and failure to bring the warring powers together in conference at Stockholm. Both these failures had brought new strength to the Bolsheviks, and a swing to the left was inevitable.
(15) Alfred Knox believed that Alexander Kerensky was a vital member of the Provisional Government.
There is only one man who can save the country, and that is Kerensky, for this little half-Jew lawyer has still the confidence of the over-articulate Petrograd mob, who, being armed, are masters of the situation. The remaining members of the Government may represent the people of Russia outside the Petrograd mob, but the people of Russia, being unarmed and inarticulate, do not count. The Provisional Government could not exist in Petrograd if it were not for Kerensky.
(16) Morgan Philips Price, My Three Revolutions (1969)
The fall of Miliukov caused Prince Lvov to reconstruct the Provisional Government. A coalition government was formed of moderate Socialists from the Soviet and seven Liberals. The Socialists were Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. The Liberals were from the Cadets and other groups. Kerensky became War Minister. He was a lawyer who made a great name for himself in defending victims of Tsarist oppression and was generally very popular. The Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries believed that at that stage of the Revolution the workers and soldiers of the Army were unable to run the country alone and needed the co-operation of the middle-class Liberals.
(17) Alfred Knox, diary entry (20th July, 1917)
Events have moved with dramatic quickness. Kerensky returned from the front last night and, in a stormy meeting of the Ministry, demanded dictatorial powers in order to bring the army back to discipline. The socialists disagreed. Lvov and Tereshchenko did their utmost to reconcile the diverging views. While addressing the men he was handed a telegram telling him of the disaster on the South-West Front, where the Germans have broken through. He took back the telegram to the Ministerial Council and the attitude changed. Lvov has resigned and Kerensky will be Prime Minister and Minister of War.
(18) In her book The Red Heart of Russia, Bessie Beatty described how the Russian people left their factories in order to defend the Bolshevik Revolution from the threatened attack by troops led by Alexander Kerensky.
The factory gates opened wide, and the amazing army of the Red Guard, ununiformed, untrained, and certainly unequipped for battle with the traditional backbone of the Russian military, marched away to defend the revolutionary capital and the victory of the proletariat. Women walked by the side of men, and small boys tagged along on the fringes of the procession. Some of the factory girls wore red crosses upon the sleeves of their thin jackets, and packed a meague kitbag of bandages and first-aid accessories. Most of them carried shovels with which to did trenches.
(19) Alexander Kerensky, order issued on 24th October, 1917.
I order all military units and detachments to remain in their barracks until further orders from the Staff of the Military District. All officers who act without orders from their superiors will be court-martialed for mutiny. I forbid absolutely any execution by soldiers of instructions from other organizations.
(20) During the summer of 1917 George Buchanan became concerned about the survival of the Provisional Government.
The Russian idea of liberty is to take things easily, to claim double wages, to demonstrate in the streets, and to waste time in talking and in passing resolutions at public meetings. Ministers are working themselves to death, and have the best intentions; but, though I am always being told that their position is becoming stronger, I see no signs of their asserting their authority. The Soviet continues to act as if it were the Government.
The military outlook is most discouraging. Nor do I take an optimistic view of the immediate future of the country. Russia is not ripe for a purely democratic form of government, and for the next few years we shall probably see a series of revolutions or counter-revolutions. A vast Empire like this, with all its different races, will not long hold together under a Republic. Disintegration will, in my opinion, sooner or later set in, even under a federal system.
(21) Alexander Kerensky, speech made at the Council of the Republic ( 24th October, 1917)
I will cite here the most characteristic passage from a whole series of articles published in Rabochi Put by Lenin, a state criminal who is in hiding and whom we are trying to find. This state criminal has invited the proletariat and the Petrograd garrison to repeat the experience of 16-18 July, and insists upon the immediate necessity for an armed rising. Moreover, other Bolshevik leaders have taken the floor in a series of meetings, and also made an appeal to immediate insurrection. Particularly should be noticed the activity of the present president of the Petrograd Soviet, Trotsky.
The policy of the Bolsheviki is demagogic and criminal, in their exploitation of the popular discontent. But there is a whole series of popular demands which have received no satisfaction up to now. The question of peace, land, and the democratization of the army ought to be stated in such a fashion that no soldier, peasant, or worker would have the least doubt that our Government is attempting, firmly and infallibly, to solve them.
The Provisional Government has never violated the liberty of all citizens of the State to use their political rights. But now the Provisional Government declares, in this moment those elements of the Russian nation, those groups and parties who have dared to lift their hands against the free will of the Russian people, at the same time threatening to open the front to Germany, must be liquidated.
(22) Nikolai Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution of 1917 (1922)
Antonov-Ovseenko's plan was accepted. It consisted in occupying first of all those parts of the city adjoining the Finland Station: the Vyborg Side, the outskirts of the Petersburg Side, etc. Together with the units arriving from Finland it would then be possible to launch an offensive against the centre of the capital.
Beginning at 2 in the morning the stations, bridges, lighting installations, telegraphs, and telegraphic agency were gradually occupied by small forces brought from the barracks. The little groups of cadets could not resist and didn't think of it. In general the military operations in the politically important centres of the city rather resembled a changing of the guard. The weaker defence force, of cadets retired; and a strengthened defence force, of Red Guards, took its place.
(23) Pavel Manlyantovich was Minister of Justice in the Provisional Government. He was arrested by Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko and the Red Guards on 25th October, 1917. He later wrote about the incident in his book, In the Winter Palace (1918)
There was a noise behind the door and it burst open like a splinter of wood thrown out by a wave, a little man flew into the room, pushed in by the onrushing crowd which poured in after him, like water, at once spilled into every corner and filled the room.
"Where are the members of the Provisional Government?"
"The Provisional Government is here," said Kornovalov, remaining seated."What do you want?"
"I inform you, all of you, members of the Provisional Government, that you are under arrest. I am Antonov-Ovseenko, chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee."
"Run them through, the sons of bitches! Why waste time with them? They've drunk enough of our blood!" yelled a short sailor, stamping the floor with his rifle."
There were sympathetic replies: "What the devil, comrades! Stick them all on bayonets, make short work of them!"
Antonov-Ovseenko raised his head and shouted sharply: "Comrades, keep calm!" All members of the Provisional Government are arrested. They will be imprisoned in the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul. I'll permit no violence. Conduct yourself calmly. Maintain order! Power is now in your hands. You must maintain order!"