This is the fifth part of 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).
Russia is on rations, food supplies to the troops and towns running low – Petrograd, Moscow and other major cities receive 10% of the grain they need. The government, a coalition of capitalists and right-wing socialists, has failed to deliver on the promises made during the February revolution. Strikes against factory closures and land seizures by peasants increase. The influence and membership of the Bolshevik party is growing – from 15,000 in the capital Petrograd at the end of April to 82,000 by the end of June.
Early June: Former US secretary of state, Elihu Root, on an official visit to Petrograd, ramps up pressure on the Provisional Government to intensify the war. He sums it up bluntly: “No war, no loans!” By-elections to the soviets see gains for the Bolsheviks, now the largest party in the Moscow Soviet with 206 deputies – the Mensheviks (right-wing socialists) have 176, the peasant-based Social Revolutionary party 110.
3: The first All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies begins in Petrograd. Of the 822 voting delegates, 285 are SRs, 248 Mensheviks, 105 Bolsheviks, and 32 Menshevik Internationalists. At the congress, Lenin calls for measures against bosses who are locking out tens of thousands of workers in an attempt to weaken the movement and derail the revolution. A strike-wave erupts among the most exploited, mainly unskilled workers.
8: Sailors on the Sevastopol battleship arrest their officers.
9: Following a conference of workers’ representatives, the Bolsheviks’ main newspaper, Pravda, calls for a demonstration on the 10th in opposition to the Menshevik and SR coalition with the capitalists, and to end the war. The Central Council of Factory and Shop Committees backs the decision, as does Trotsky’s group, the Mezhraiontsy. Sections of workers and soldiers in Petrograd are calling for the seizure of power but Lenin and Trotsky understand that this is too far ahead of the mood in the rest of Russia. They maintain the need to win majority support in the soviets for a socialist alternative.
10: The Petrograd Soviet executive demands that the demo is called off – the Bolsheviks argue in defence of the right to peaceful protest. The Mensheviks and SRs get agreement at the all-Russia congress to ban demonstrations for three days. Confronted with this ultimatum, the Bolsheviks decide not to go ahead. The Putilov factory (40,000 workers) and the First Machine Gun Regiment reluctantly agree to postpone the action, but only after lengthy discussion with Bolshevik party reps.
11: The Mensheviks step up the campaign against the Bolsheviks, falsely claiming they are German government collaborators. The Mensheviks attempt to retake the initiative by calling demonstrations on the 18th.
16: War minister Alexander Kerensky orders a new military offensive in Galicia (central-eastern Europe) against Austro-Hungarian and German forces – stocks and shares rise on the Paris Bourse! The offensive begins on the 18th, eventually causing 400,000 Russian casualties (150,000 killed).
18: The day of action backfires on the Mensheviks and SRs, turning into mass support for the Bolsheviks. Up to half a million march in Petrograd demanding ‘all power to the soviets!’ and ‘down with the offensive!’ Similar protests take place in Moscow, Kyiv, Kharkov and elsewhere. Anarchists in the capital attack prisons freeing several hundred inmates.
20: The Petrograd Soviet passes a resolution greeting the Russian army’s initial advances by 472 votes to 271, with 39 abstentions. The size of the opposition marks a leftward shift, with Bolsheviks, Menshevik Internationalists and left-wing SR members now making up two-fifths of the soviet.
21: The machine gun regiment refuses to fight for imperialist war aims. Many soldiers are arrested, others step up pressure on the Bolsheviks to seize power.
22: Patriotic demonstrations, whipped up by pro-war propaganda, lead to scuffles. Far-right groups are formed – the Military League, the Union of the Cavaliers of St George, the Volunteers’ Division and others make military coup plans. Bolshevik newspapers warn the garrisons of the danger of being provoked into premature armed conflict.
23: A conference of representatives of the factory and shop committees, the Central Trade Union Bureau and more than 70 factories agrees to back the Bolsheviks’ approach to building the revolutionary movement.
24: The Bolshevik-led soviet in Petrograd’s industrial Vyborg district adopts a resolution opposing the war policy, and condemning the Mensheviks and SRs.
26: The Grenadier Guard Regiment returns from the front and joins with anarchists at the Kronstadt naval base.
28: Trotsky steps up efforts to merge the Mezhraiontsy (Inter-District Organisation) with the Bolshevik party.
Under Lenin’s leadership (backed by Trotsky) the Bolshevik party’s programme sets it apart from other political groups. Its class-struggle policies to fight job losses, for the eight-hour day and workers’ control win over industrial centres and working-class districts. It openly opposes the military offensive and has important bases of support in the armed forces. Constant vilification in the capitalist press and by establishment politicians reinforces the view that the Bolsheviks are the only ones fighting consistently for the workers, soldiers and peasants. Their successes have marked them out, however, and counter-revolutionary forces are moving against them with ever more determination.