Russian revolution timeline
This is the sixth in
our series on the events of 1917. Dates are given in the old style
Julian calendar used in Russia at the time. This was 13 days earlier
than the Gregorian calendar (adopted in Russia in 1918).
The economy is in crisis,
with inflation out of control and workers thrown out of work in
their thousands. The catastrophic world war grinds on. Capitalists
and monarchists launch an all-out assault on the workers’ movement.
Fake news and false allegations fill the right-wing press in an
attempt to discredit the workers’ and socialist movement. They are
echoed by right-wing socialist Mensheviks and the peasant-based
Social Revolutionaries in the coalition government and in the
leadership of the soviets.
2: The Kadets
(Constitutional Democrats, the main capitalist party) withdraw from
the Provisional Government adding to the political instability.
3-5: The July
Days: an insurrectionary mood has been building among soldiers,
sailors and workers in Petrograd at the failure to deliver bread,
peace and land. They intend to stage an armed demonstration calling
on the Petrograd Soviet to take power. Their demands, however, are
in advance of the rest of Russia.
3: The Bolsheviks
and Mezhraiontsy (the Inter-District Organisation led by Leon
Trotsky and Anatoli Lunacharsky) meet at the Tauride Palace to
discuss the fraught situation: whether to try to get the protest
called off, or to lead it to minimise the potential long-term damage
to the movement, and the casualties from the ensuing repression. In
consultation with workers and soldiers, the latter course of action
4: Half a million
demonstrate in Petrograd. The government launches a brutal
crackdown, with 400 casualties in the capital. The printing presses
of the Bolshevik paper Pravda are destroyed, workers selling the
paper are attacked by far-right thugs. The HQs of the Bolshevik
Central Committee (CC) and Petrograd committee are raided.
5: The government
orders the arrest of Bolshevik leaders and other activists.
7: Vladimir Lenin
and Grigory Zinoviev go into hiding.
8: Prince Lvov
resigns and a new interim government of the ‘salvation of the
revolution’ is formed, headed by Alexander Kerensky.
12: Newspapers are
shut down, freedom of assembly curtailed. The death penalty is
reinstated for mutinous troops or deserters.
13: The government
denounces Lenin and Zinoviev for evading arrest: if they are
innocent, why did they run? The main aim is to undermine support for
the Bolsheviks, and the propaganda is having an effect. In reality,
the real risk of Lenin and co being killed while in custody meant
that it was impossible for them to hand themselves in.
15: A Mezhraiontsy
conference begins in Petrograd. Trotsky explains the urgent need to
formally unite with the Bolshevik party.
18: General Lavr
Kornilov becomes Russian army commander.
21: A decree is
published indicting Lenin, Zinoviev and Alexandra Kollontai, among
others, for state treason: working for foreign powers and organising
an armed insurrection in Petrograd. The same laws are used to arrest
Trotsky and Lunacharsky on 23 July.
24: Kerensky, now
prime minister and war minister, forms a new coalition. This is
ratified by the Petrograd Soviet executive by 147 votes to 46 with
42 abstentions – showing increased opposition to the Mensheviks and
26 July to 3 August:
The 6th congress of the Bolshevik party takes place. It agrees
to fuse with the Mezhraiontsy.
3: Joseph Stalin
is elected to the Bolshevik CC.
7: Black Hundred
(far-right, anti-Semitic) members are released from prison.
Kornilov’s profile is built up in the press and at a Moscow
conference of industrialists, bankers, generals, clergy and Kadet
leaders. The Workers’ Section of the Petrograd Soviet demands the
abolition of the death penalty, and sends greetings to Trotsky,
Lunacharsky, Kollontai and others in Kresty prison. Putilov workers
set aside a day’s wages for a workers’ press.
Provisional Government organises the State Conference in Moscow, an
attempt to bolster right-wing forces and side-line the soviets. Out
of 2,500 delegates, nearly 500 are from the tsarist-era state Duma
(parliament); more than 100 are army officers, with only around 300
from the soviets. It rules that party groupings can only speak with
the presidium’s permission. The Bolsheviks boycott it. Moscow trade
unions call a one-day strike, a decision backed by most of the
district soviets. Although the Moscow Soviet votes against – by 364
to 304 – rank and file Mensheviks and SRs have already voted for the
strike in their workplaces.
12: The strike is
solid, with 400,000 out in Moscow, and similar action throughout
Russia. The call for a one-day strike is well judged: it avoids a
repeat of the July days, shows that Petrograd is not isolated, and
that the Bolsheviks’ strength has been maintained.
14: At the
conference, Kornilov declares his intention to rid Petrograd of
19: The German
army breaks through Russian lines, a fact used in the propaganda
drive around Kornilov’s preparation for a coup.
Bolsheviks, working under semi-clandestine conditions, make a
breakthrough in elections to the Petrograd city duma. The SRs
receive a little over 200,000 votes (37%) and 75 seats. The
Bolsheviks come second on 33%, 65 seats. The Kadets have 42 seats,
while the Mensheviks slump to eight (5%).
21: German troops
occupy Riga, capital of Latvia.
26: A febrile
atmosphere exists in Petrograd as fake news of a Bolshevik
insurrection is whipped up by counter-revolutionary forces.
Left-wing groups, trade unions, and shop and factory committees make
it clear that no workers’ organisations or parties are calling any
27: Kornilov moves
troops ever nearer to Petrograd, aided by British army personnel and
vehicles. General Knox, head of Britain’s military in Russia, is
clear: "This people needs the whip! A dictatorship, that is just
what it needs". British ambassador Sir George Buchanan offers the
support of the allies.
27-30: Under the
guidance of the Bolsheviks – even though they are in a minority –
the Military Revolutionary Committee in Petrograd organises the
defence of factories and workers’ districts. By the 29th, 40,000 Red
Guards have been recruited. Rail workers rip up track or re-route
Kornilov’s troop trains. Post/telegraph workers intercept military
communications. The chauffers’ union provides transport, and
printers take control of the press. Garrisons mutiny at Vyborg and
Kronstadt. Kornilov is routed.
31: The Petrograd
Soviet votes for the transfer of power to the working class by an
overwhelming majority. The Mensheviks and SRs demand a second vote,
pressuring delegates to overturn the decision. It is ratified again:
by 279 votes to 115 with 51 abstentions.
The July days and
August’s month of slander represented a colossal assault on the
revolutionary movement. Yet, as the role of the right-wing press and
coup plotters became clearer – and with the impotence, hypocrisy and
betrayals of the Mensheviks and SRs increasingly exposed – the
political authority of the Bolsheviks began to rise again, to new