‘Soldiers, take power into your own hands!’

Russian soldiers in 1917
March 25, 2017

One hundred years ago, on March 14, 1917 (March 1 according to the Julian calendar then in use in Russia), the Social Democratic Interdistrict Committee (Mezhrayonka), supported by the Petersburg Committee of Socialist Revolutionaries, issued the following appeal to soldiers.

At that time, the Duma Committee and the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies were striving to bring order into the revolutionary events on the streets and to prevent the tsarist autocracy from restoring its control over the city. Dominated by moderate socialists, the Soviet pursued a policy of cooperation with liberals in the Duma. 

Nonetheless, the Soviet's "Order No. 1," issued on March 14 (March 1) in response to soldiers' pressure and published on March 15 (March 2), called for soldiers to elect representative committees all along the chain of command, stipulated that officers treat soldiers respectfully and asserted the Soviet's primary influence over soldiers by stating that they should obey only Duma commands that did not contradict Soviet resolutions.

The Duma Committee announced the formation of the Provisional Government on March 15 (March 2), and Nicholas II abdicated on behalf of himself and his son. By March 16 (March 3), the autocracy had collapsed. 

Thus, the ground was prepared for the period of "dual power" in Petrograd – between the rival Duma and Provisional Government on one side and the Petrograd soviet on the other – that prevailed between the February and October Revolutions.

The Interdistrict Committee, co-authors of the appeal below, wanted to rally all the factions of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party (RSDRP), but later in 1917 fused with the Bolshevik current. 

Their leaflet here presented a militant alternative to the Duma Committee's course. 

According to historian Michael Melancon, it circulated on March 14 (March 1), probably before Order No. 1 was issued, and may have influenced the wording of Order No. 1. 

Alexander Shlyapnikov, who published the leaflet in 1923, states that the executive committee of the Petersburg Soviet confiscated it on the morning of March 15 (March 2).

The leaflet was translated and the above annotation written by Barbara Allen. 

It is the eighth piece in the ongoing “1917: The View from the Streets – Leaflets of the Russian Revolution” series being co-ordinated by Allen and John Riddell. 

It was first published at John Riddell's Marxist Essays and Commentary website and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

* * *

Comrade soldiers!

It has come to pass! You enslaved peasants and workers arose, and with a crash the autocratic government collapsed in disgrace.

Soldiers! The people were patient for a long time. The peasants long suffered under the power of the gentry landowners, the land captains, the district police officers and the whole gang of servants of the tsarist autocracy. 

Millions of peasants became swollen from hunger while the State Treasury, the monasteries and the landowners seized all the land, and while the nobles got fat from sucking the people’s blood. Without land, the peasant cannot even put his chickens out to feed!

Brother soldiers!

As peasants, as workers, what do you need? All the land and full freedom – that is what you need! 

You did not shed your blood in vain. For two days Petrograd has been under the power of soldiers and workers. It has been two days since the dissolved State Duma elected a Provisional Committee, which it calls a Provisional Government. 

Still, you have not heard a word from [MV] Rodzianko [Duma chair] or [PN] Miliukov [Kadet Party leader and Provisional Committee spokesman] about whether the land will be taken from the gentry landowners and given to the people. The prospects are poor!

Soldiers! Be on your guard to prevent the nobles from deceiving the people!

Go ask the Duma, will the people have land, freedom, and peace?

Soldiers! Why does the Duma say nothing about this? Autocratic arbitrariness needs to be completely uprooted. 

The people’s cause will perish unless we conclude the business by convening the Constituent Assembly, to which all peasants and all workers would send their deputies – not like in the current Duma, composed of the wealthy and highest ranks of society, which dooms the people’s cause!

Take power into your hands, so that this Romanov gang of nobles and officers does not deceive you. 

Elect your own platoon, company, and regiment commanders. Elect company committees for managing food supplies. All officers should be under the supervision of these company committees.

Accept only those officers whom you know to be friends of the people.

Obey only delegates sent from the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies!

Soldiers! Now, when you have arisen and achieved victory, those coming to join you include not only friends but also officers, who are former enemies and who only pretend to be your friends.

Soldiers! We are more afraid of the fox’s tail [intrigues] than the wolf’s tooth [outright aggression]. 

Only the workers and peasants are your true friends and brothers. Strengthen your unity with them! Send your delegate-representatives to the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, already supported by 250,000 workers in Petrograd alone. 

Your representatives and worker deputies should become the people’s Provisional Revolutionary Government. It will give you both land and freedom!

Soldiers, listen to us! Demand an answer from the Duma right now. Will it take land from the gentry landowners, State Treasury, and monasteries? 

Will it transfer land to the peasants? Will it give the people complete freedom? Will it convene the Constituent Assembly? Don’t waste time!

Soldiers! Talk about this in your companies and battalions! Hold meetings! Elect from among you commanders and representatives to the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.

All land to the peasants!

All freedom to the people!

Long live the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies!

Long live the Provisional Revolutionary Government!

Petersburg Interdistrict Committee of the RSDRP

Petersburg Committee of Socialist Revolutionaries, March 1917

[Published in AG Shlyapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 1. On Shlyapnikov’s role in the 1917 events, see Barbara C Allen, Alexander Shlyapnikov 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik.]

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