One hundred years ago, the Russia Revolution rocked the world, first with the overthrow of the Tsar in February and then with the Bolshevik-led taking of full power by the soviets (elected councils of workers, soldiers and peasants) in October.
As part of looking back on this monumental event, Canadian Marxist John Riddell is collecting a leaflets and proclamations from significant forces from 1917 as part of the “Voices from the streets” series. US historian Barbara Allen is providing translations. The series can also be read at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.
The first proclamation below was released by the Bolsheviks on June 9, 1917. It was circulated among Petrograd workers. Nine days later, the Bolsheviks’ slogans won mass support at a giant Soviet-called demonstration.
In mid-May, the Bolshevik Military Organisation (BMO), which organised soldiers, proposed to the Bolshevik Party Central Committee (CC) the organising of a demonstration opposing the Provisional Government’s planned military offensive as part of World War I.
Fearing that such an action was premature, the CC was not receptive. BMO organisers became more insistent, as soldiers worried about attempts to restore military discipline and feared transfer to the front.
BMO leaders hoped to time a demonstration to coincide with the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, which met in Petrograd over June 3-24. The CC remained undecided, although VI Lenin supported a demonstration, as did most Petrograd Committee members.
Worker unrest over the Provisional Government’s attempt to expel Anarchist-Communists from their headquarters created more friction. An expanded meeting of Bolshevik party organisations on June 8 revealed majority support for a demonstration by workers and soldiers two days later. The Bolshevik leaflet translated below helped prepare for the demonstration.
The second document is the response by the All-Russian Congress of Soviets to the Bolsheviks’ appeal. The proposed demonstration encountered opposition in the Congress, which appealed to military units and factory workers not to march. In the early hours of June 10, a small meeting of Bolshevik CC members called off the demonstration.
In an attempt to bolster support for its policies, the Soviet arranged a demonstration on June 18, which attracted almost 500,000 participants. Due to the efforts of Bolsheviks and other left factions, the demonstration was dominated by radical slogans calling for ending the war, opposing the coalition government and its military offensive, and transferring all power to the soviets.
Proclamation of the All-Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (Bolsheviks)
To all labourers, workers and soldiers of Petrograd
Russia is experiencing difficult trials. The war, which has carried off millions of victims, continues. Millionaire bankers are intentionally prolonging it, because they’re making a fortune.
The war has devastated industry, leading to factory stoppages and unemployment. The greedy capitalists, who lock out workers while making fantastic profits, exacerbate this trend.
Shortages of bread and other food supplies are becoming more acute. The rising cost of living is throttling the population. Prices keep rising, per the whims of robber-speculators.
The sinister spectre of hunger and ruin looms over us. At the same time, the black clouds of counterrevolution are approaching.
Imposed by the Tsar to strangle the people, the Duma [a parliamentary body that socialists considered illegitimate due to undemocratic voting rules] now demands an immediate offensive at the front. But for what purpose? To drown in blood the freedom that we have obtained.
The State Council, which supplied the Tsar with hangmen ministers, is quietly braiding a traitor’s noose, while shielding itself behind the law. What is this for? It is so that at a convenient time they may come out into the open and hang the noose around the neck of the people.
The Provisional government, positioned between the tsarist Duma and the Soviet and containing 10 bourgeois members, obviously has fallen under the influence of gentry landowners and capitalists. Instead of securing soldiers’ rights, the “declaration” of [Provisional government head Alexander] Kerensky violates their rights in several very important points.
• Instead of securing the liberties that soldiers gained during the revolution, new “commands” threaten them with penal servitude.
• Instead of securing the freedom, which Russia’s citizens achieved, there are arrests without trial or investigation, and new suggestions about Article 129, which make threats about penal servitude.
• Instead of struggling against counterrevolution, they put up with the debauchery and bacchanalia of counterrevolutionaries.
• Meanwhile, economic devastation keeps getting worse and no measures are taken against it.
• The war keeps going on and no actual measures are taken to end it.
• Famine is still imminent and no actual measures are taken to prevent it.
Is it really any surprise that counterrevolutionaries are becoming more insolent and inciting the government to repress soldiers, sailors, workers, and peasants?
Comrades! It’s impossible to endure such things in silence any more. It is a crime to keep silent after all this! Protest is already starting in the depths of the working class.
We are free citizens. We have the right to protest and we should avail ourselves of this right before it is too late.
We still have the right to demonstrate peacefully. We will go to a peaceful demonstration and will make our needs and wishes known!
Raise the flags of victory today to make the enemies of freedom and socialism afraid!
Let our call, the cry of the sons of the revolution, fly round all Russia today to the joy of all those who are oppressed and enslaved!
Workers! Join together with soldiers and support their just demands. Indeed, don’t you remember how they supported you during the revolution? Everyone onto the streets, comrades!
Soldiers! Hold out your hands to workers and support their just demands. The strength of the revolution is in the union of soldiers and workers. Not one regiment or company should sit in the barracks today!
Everyone into the streets, comrades! March on the streets of the capital in orderly ranks. State your wishes calmly and confidently, as befits the strong: Down with the tsarist Duma!
Down with the State Council! Down with the 10 capitalist ministers!
All power to the All-Russian Soviet of Workers, Soldiers and Peasants’ Deputies!
Revise the “declaration of the rights of soldiers”! Repeal the “commands” against soldiers and sailors!
Down with anarchy in industry! Down with capitalists who engage in lockouts! Long live workers’ supervision and organisation of industry!
It’s time to end the war! Let the Soviet of deputies announce just conditions of peace! Neither a separate peace with [German emperor] Wilhelm, nor secret treaties with French and English capitalists!
Bread! Peace! Freedom!
Proclamation of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets opposing a demonstration
Soldiers and worker comrades!
The Bolshevik party is calling you out onto the street.
Their appeal was prepared without the knowledge of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, the All-Russian Congress, the Soviet of Peasants’ Deputies or any other socialist parties.
It rang out right at the critical moment when the All-Russian Congress called upon worker comrades of Vyborg District to remember that any demonstrations during these days can harm the cause of the revolution.
Comrades, on behalf of millions of workers, peasants and soldiers in the rear and at the front we say to you: Don’t do what they are calling upon you to do.
At this critical moment, they are calling upon you to go onto the street to demand the overthrow of the Provisional Government, which the All-Russian [Soviet] Congress only just recognised as necessary to support.
Those who call you out cannot help but know that bloody riots may arise from your peaceful demonstration. Knowing your dedication to the revolutionary cause, we say to you: They are calling upon you to demonstrate in favour of the revolution, but we know that hidden counterrevolutionaries want to make use of your demonstration.
We know that counterrevolutionaries eagerly await the moment when internecine war in the ranks of revolutionary democratic forces will make it possible for them to crush the revolution.
In the name of all Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, the Soviet of Peasants’ Deputies, armies in action and socialist parties, we say to you: Not one company, regiment or group of workers should be on the street. There should not be even one demonstration today.
A great struggle still confronts us. When counterrevolutionary danger actually threatens Russian freedom, we will call upon you.
Disorderly demonstrations are the downfall of the revolution. Conserve your forces. Act in concert with all revolutionary Russia.