SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 214 Dec/Jan 2017/18

Russian revolution - from December 1917

This is the final part of our series on the 1917 revolution – this one including some key events in subsequent years. Dates are given in the old style Julian calendar (13 days earlier than the Gregorian calendar) up to the point it was replaced in Russia (1/14 February 1918).

December 1917

2: An armistice is declared between Soviet Russia and the central powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Ottoman Turkey), preparing the way for negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, Belarus.

3. The Soviet government (Council of People’s Commissars) recognises the right of Ukraine to secede.

7: The All-Russia Extraordinary Commission (Cheka) is formed to combat counter-revolutionary sabotage.

9: Left Social Revolutionaries (SRs) join the government executive.

14: Soviet decree on the nationalisation of the banks.

16: The election of army officers is introduced.

18: The Soviet government recognises Finnish independence. Decrees on civil marriage and divorce give equal rights to women and men.

25: The first All-Ukraine Congress of Soviets declares Ukraine a Soviet Socialist Republic, independent of Russia but in opposition to the rada (parliament).


The Bolshevik Party changes its name to the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks). In 1925 it would become the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and, in 1952, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

January 2: An attempt is made on Lenin’s life.

5: The Constituent Assembly (elected in November but superseded by the All-Russia Soviet Congress) meets. It is dissolved the following day.

10-18: The third All-Russia Soviet Congress takes place.

20: The Soviet government issues a decree separating church and state. It allows freedom of religious practice, and nationalises the large landholdings and property held by the church.

21: Tsarist-era state debt is annulled.

28: Brest-Litovsk negotiations break off. Leon Trotsky denounces central power terms as unacceptable.

February 14 (February 1 old style): Gregorian calendar introduced. The German army seizes most of Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states.

March 3: The Brest-Litovsk treaty is signed – the central powers exert harsh terms on Soviet Russia. Left SRs denounce the deal and leave the government.

5/6: British and allied forces land at Murmansk.

12: The Soviet government moves to Moscow from Petrograd.

13: Trotsky is appointed war commissar.

15/16: The All-Russia Congress of Soviets ratifies the Brest-Litovsk treaty. German troops occupy Kyiv (Kiev).

April: Japanese forces land at Vladivostok, German troops occupy Odessa and Crimea. The nationalisation of foreign trade is decreed.

May 25: Large-scale civil war breaks out with an offensive by legions made up of Czechoslovak prisoners-of-war, supported by the SRs. They form an anti-Soviet government at Samara on 8 June.

June 28: The period known as ‘war communism’ begins, centralising the economy in defence of the new workers’ state.

July 6: SRs assassinate the German ambassador to foment political instability.

August 30: Lenin is shot three times and seriously wounded in an assassination attempt.

October 29: A German naval mutiny triggers revolution in Germany.

November 9: Revolutionary uprising in Berlin.

November 11: An armistice is declared on the western front, ending the fighting between Germany and the allied powers.

November 18: General Kolchak sets up a counter-revolutionary base for military operations in Siberia.


January 4-15: The Spartacist rising in Berlin is suppressed. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg are murdered by far-right paramilitaries given the green light by social-democratic leaders.

March 2-7: The first congress of the Third International (Comintern) takes place with Grigory Zinoviev elected chair.

April-October: Former tsarist generals Anton Denikin and Nikolai Yudenich lead offensives in south Russia and against Petrograd.

June 28: The Versailles treaty ends the first world war.


January: Kolchak’s army is defeated.

April: Polish forces invade Russia.

August 19: A peasant uprising takes place in Tambov against shortages and economic collapse.

November: The civil war ends as Pyotr Wrangel’s forces retreat from Crimea.


March 2-17: Rebellion at Kronstadt fuelled by discontent at the economic crisis, whipped up by anarchist and counter-revolutionary groups. It is eventually subdued by the Red Army after fierce fighting.

Mid-March: The new economic policy (NEP) is introduced, opening up the economy.

May: The Tambov uprising is suppressed.


April 3: Stalin becomes Communist Party (CP) general secretary.

May 26: Lenin’s first stroke.

October: Mussolini’s fascists seize power in Italy.

December 16: Lenin’s second stroke.

December 25: Lenin begins work on his testament. Intended for the CP congress in April 1923, it contains a damning indictment of Stalin, effectively calling for his removal as general secretary.

December 30: The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) is established.


March 5: Lenin breaks off relations with Stalin.

March 9: Lenin’s third stroke leaves him paralysed and unable to speak.

October 8: Trotsky publishes a letter attacking the CP leadership under Stalin.

October 21-23: The German revolution is defeated.

December 14: Stalin launches a systematic campaign against the Opposition led by Trotsky.


January 21: Lenin dies. Alexei Rykov becomes chair of the Council of People’s Commissars. Stalin, Lev Kamenev and Zinoviev marginalise Trotsky in the leading bodies of the CP. Petrograd is renamed Leningrad.

February: The CP announces the ‘Lenin enrolment’, recruiting huge numbers of careerists and people never involved in class struggle. This strengthens bureaucratic tendencies and the stranglehold of Stalin and his clique.

December: Stalin puts forward his theory of socialism in one country at the 13th CP congress.


Trotsky is forced to resign as war commissar on 15 January.


Zinoviev and his supporters are removed from CP roles in Leningrad on 12 February. Trotsky and Zinoviev groups go on to form the United Opposition. In July, Zinoviev is removed from the CP’s Politburo, Trotsky and Kamenev in October. Nikolai Bukharin takes over as chair of the Comintern.


Thousands of workers are massacred in Shanghai on 12 April by Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist forces. This is a disastrous setback, a consequence of the mistaken policies of the Stalin-led Comintern which had instructed Chinese communists to work alongside Chiang’s Kuomintang. Trotsky and Zinoviev are removed from the CP Central Committee in October and, on 15 November, are expelled from the party.


Trotsky, Natalya Sedova and their son Lev are exiled to Alma-Ata (now Almaty), Kazakhstan, on 16 January. Other prominent Left Opposition members are kicked out of Moscow. Zinoviev and his group are readmitted into the CP in June. The ‘third period’ of ultra-left policies is imposed on communist parties around the world by the Comintern at its sixth congress. In Germany, this sectarian policy blocks attempts at united front action between workers’ organisation against the Nazis.


Trotsky and family are deported to Büyükada (Prinkipo island), Turkey, on 11 February. Bukharin is replaced as chair of the Comintern in July, and later removed from the Politburo.


Trotsky and family seek asylum in France. Hitler comes to power in Germany in January.


Stalin shifts the Comintern policy to the popular front tactic – endorsed at its seventh (and final) congress in 1935. Communist parties now have to ally themselves with so-called ‘progressive capitalists’. Sergei Kirov, CP leader in Leningrad and potential rival to Stalin, is assassinated in December.


On 15-16 January, Zinoviev, Kamenev and 13 others are put on trial in secret for complicity in Kirov’s murder. Zinoviev and Kamenev are sentenced to ten and five years’ imprisonment respectively. Trotsky and family are kicked out of France and move to Norway, where they are placed under house arrest in September.


The first Moscow show trial, 19-24 August, against the so-called ‘Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Centre’. All 16 defendants are found guilty. Zinoviev and Kamenev are executed. The Mexican government offers asylum to Trotsky.


Trotsky and Sedova arrive in Mexico on 9 January. The second Moscow show trial, 23-30 January, against the ‘Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre’. All 17 defendants are found guilty, 13 are executed. Stalinist policies lead to the defeat of the workers in Barcelona in May – and of the Spanish revolution. Mikhail Tukhachevsky and other Red Army leaders are tried in secret and executed in June.


The third Moscow show trial, 2-13 March, against the ‘Anti-Soviet Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites’. Eighteen of the 21 defendants are executed, including Bukharin and Rykov. The Fourth International holds its founding conference near Paris in September – Trotsky cannot attend due to visa restrictions and ever-present threats to his life.


Leon Trotsky is assassinated by one of Stalin’s agents in Coyoacán, Mexico, on 21 August.

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