Russian revolution timeline
This is the eighth 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 working class and
poor are on starvation rations. Grain prices rocket, provoking food
riots. Scurvy and typhus are widespread. Furious at government
inaction and increased state repression, peasants intensify land
seizures. The Russian war front is collapsing. Exhausted,
ill-equipped troops send delegations to the capital Petrograd to
protest. Regiments resolve that, come winter, they will desert.
From the end of
September, the Bolshevik Party has stepped up calls for the second
All-Russia Congress of Soviets to be convened. The Soviet Central
Executive Committee (CEC), still dominated by right-wing socialist
Mensheviks and peasant-based Social Revolutionaries (SR), sets the
date for 20 October – seeking all the while to postpone or cancel
it. Piling on the pressure, the Bolsheviks organise a northern
conference with delegates from the major cities, navy and army bases
of Petrograd, Moscow, Kronstadt, Helsinki and Tallinn.
discussions in the Bolshevik Party lead to a vote against
participation in the Pre-Parliament (officially: the Council of the
Russian Republic), set up in September by the coalition Provisional
Government to try to halt the growing power of the soviets and
Bolsheviks. The decision is a turning point, a step towards
preparing the takeover of power. Debate has raged since
mid-September, with Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky repeatedly
coming up against other prominent Bolsheviks.
Pre-Parliament opens at the Mariinsky Palace. Trotsky is given ten
minutes to explain the Bolsheviks’ position. He uses the platform to
denounce the counter-revolutionary nature of the government and
calls for all power to the soviets. The Bolsheviks go into overdrive
campaigning across Russia and on every war front. Lenin returns to
Petrograd under cover.
9: A Menshevik/SR
resolution to create a defence committee is passed at the Petrograd
Soviet executive. Their aim is to continue the imperialist world
war, including a new offensive, and to transfer Bolshevised troops
out of the capital. To their surprise, the Bolsheviks accept the
proposal, realising that it could instead play an important role in
defence of the revolution. It eventually starts work on 20 October,
renamed the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC) – with Trotsky as
10: The Bolshevik
Central Committee (CC) meets in secret for ten hours. It agrees a
resolution moved by Lenin – ten votes to two (Grigory Zinoviev and
Lev Kamenev) – stating that armed insurrection is pending and that
the Bolsheviks must prepare for it. This opens up another period of
intense debate in the party.
13: Warship radios
broadcast the call for the All-Russia Congress of Soviets to go
ahead. It becomes a nationwide issue for political parties and is
key to the Bolsheviks winning over the majority of the soviets to
their position, sometimes backed by Left SRs. The Petrograd
Soldiers’ Soviet votes to obey only orders from the Soviet defence
15: The Kyiv
(Kiev) Soviet recognises the All-Russia Congress as the only power,
by 159 votes to 28 with three abstentions. The following day, the
northwest soviets at Minsk back the congress.
16: The Bolsheviks
hold another meeting, including delegates from the party’s Petrograd
executive and military organisation, its group in the Petrograd
Soviet, from trade unions and factory committees. Although it leaves
some room for ambiguity, it essentially unifies Lenin’s urgent call
for insurrection with that of Trotsky and others for it to take
place on the eve of the All-Russia Congress. One problem remains:
when will the Congress take place?
Menshevik/SR-led CEC postpones the Congress to the 25th.
all-Russia conference of Factory and Shop Committees meets in
Petrograd and calls for all power to the soviets.
backed by Zinoviev, leaks the Bolsheviks’ plans in an article in
Novaya Zhizn (New Life – Maxim Gorky’s paper). Kamenev writes that
he and Zinoviev oppose an armed insurrection. It is a blatant
attempt at sabotage and a complete break of party discipline. The
Petrograd Garrisons conference resolves to obey only defence
19: The Urals
Soviet, meeting at Krestinsky and representing 224,000 workers and
soldiers – 80 of the 110 delegates are Bolsheviks – demands the
All-Russia Congress is convened immediately.
soviets at Ivanovo-Voznesensk declare that they are "in a state of
open and ruthless struggle with the Provisional Government", with
only one vote against.
22: Hundreds of
thousands of people answer the MRC’s call to attend mass meetings
and peaceful protests in Petrograd. It is a huge show of strength
for soviet power. Bolshevik papers list 56 mass organisations
supporting the demand.
23: The Peter and
Paul fortress backs the Bolshevik position after Trotsky addresses
the garrison, as does the Kronverksky arsenal (100,000 rifles).
Provisional Government troops attempt to shut down Bolshevik
printing presses (Rabochii Put [Workers’ Path] and Soldat papers),
and attack the HQs of the Bolshevik CC and MRC, both based at the
Smolny Institute. The MRC starts appointing commissars to military
units as representatives of soviet power. The Petrograd Soviet
issues Revolutionary Decree No.1, taking control of employment.
24: Trotsky and
the MRC coordinate the taking of Petrograd’s main bridges, roads and
buildings by Red Guards and workers. The former minister-president,
Alexander Kerensky, scuttles out of Petrograd with an official US
car escort displaying the Stars and Stripes.
25/26: The capture
of the Winter Palace housing the government completes the takeover
of Petrograd. The MRC announces the successful revolutionary
25: The second
All-Russia Congress of Soviets begins with 650-670 voting delegates
(and around 900 present), including 300 Bolsheviks plus fellow
travellers, up to 190 SRs (split into two factions, with Left SRs
the stronger), around 70 Mensheviks, and 30 Internationalists. At
the first All-Russia Congress in June, the SRs and Mensheviks had
600 out of 830 delegates. The composition illustrates the shift as
younger, more working-class delegates replace the middle-class
intellectuals and officers who dominated in June. Over 500 back the
seizure of power. It elects a new presidium of 14 Bolsheviks, seven
SRs, three Mensheviks, and one from Gorky’s group. The Right SRs and
Mensheviks walk out. A new CEC is elected – the groups that walked
out are given the right to send delegates on a proportional
26: The Soviet
government is inaugurated with Lenin as chair of the Council of
People’s Commissars. It issues decrees on ending the war, and on the
land. Fighting erupts in Moscow and flares up over eight days as
counter-revolutionary forces attack.
27: Soviet power
is established in Minsk, Kronstadt, Ivanovo-Voznesenk, Lugansk,
Kazan, Rostov-on-Don, Ekaterinburg, Tallinn, Samara and Saratov.
Troops led by General Krasnov and Kerensky move on Petrograd.
and Krasnov are defeated.
31: Soviet power
is established in Baku, and runs 17 provincial capitals.
In the History of the
Russian Revolution (1930) – by far the best analysis to date – Leon
Trotsky explains that the workers, soldiers and poor peasants had no
choice but revolution in October 1917. Economic collapse, social
disintegration, grinding poverty and interminable war – and the
betrayal of ‘liberal’ and right-wing socialist politicians – proved
to the working class and oppressed that only a soviet government
could take society forward. Many of the vital tasks, such as
supplying water, food and fuel, were already being carried out by
Trotsky wrote: "The
government of the soviets… grew up irresistibly from below, from the
breakdown of industry, the impotence of the possessors, the needs of
the masses. The soviets had in actual fact become a government. For
the workers, soldiers and peasants there remained no other road… It
had to be realised". Over the course of eight months, the Bolsheviks
led by Lenin and Trotsky had become a mass revolutionary party which
had won the support of millions. They had developed the programme,
strategy, tactics and organisation necessary to realise the
revolution – and set up the world’s first workers’ state.