View from the streets in 1917: The July Days a sign of things to come

Protesters flee as soldiers loyal to the Provisional Government fire on their demonstration in Petrograd on July 4, 1917.
July 31, 2017

One hundred years ago, between July 16-20 [3-7 in New Style] 1917, a protest movement of workers and soldiers in Petrograd was repelled by military and police attacks, with hundreds of casualties.

It was a key phase in the storm that swept Russia during 1917. It  culminated in the October Revolution when, led by the Bolsheviks, the soviets (councils) of workers, soldiers and peasants took power, overthrowing the capitalist Provisional Government that was formed after the February Revolution deposed the Tsar.

The July Uprising, or July Days as it is known, came about due to the failure of the Russian military offensive against the Central Powers in June, a worsening of the crisis in Petrograd’s food and fuel supply, and a crisis of confidence in the government after two Liberal (Kadet) ministers resigned over their opposition to Ukrainian autonomy.

In the wake of the military offensive’s collapse, huge unrest arose in the Russian army, which could no longer fight effectively. The uprising began among soldiers in the Petrograd garrison who feared transfer to the front, but also involved workers who were already on strike over low wages. Workers and soldiers demanded “all power to the soviets” and raised other radical slogans.

Members of the Bolshevik Military Organisation, anarchists, and Left Socialist Revolutionaries encouraged the soldiers’ revolt. The Bolshevik central committee originally opposed the uprising, but quickly changed its position to one of support after tens of thousands of demonstrators surrounded the Tauride Palace, where the Petrograd Soviet met.

The uprising failed and the defeat of the July movement temporarily checked the revolution’s impetus. The Provisional Government drove the Bolshevik movement semi-underground and arrested Leon Trotsky and many other revolutionary leaders.

The first document below represents the position towards the uprising of the moderate socialists who then held a majority in the soviets. The second document provides the Bolshevik point of view.

The documents have been selected and translated by Barbara Allen. They are reprinted from johnriddell.wordpress.com and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal as part of the “View from the streets” series.

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‘Protests strike blows against our brothers at the front’

To all workers and soldiers of the city of Petrograd.

Soldier and worker comrades!

Despite the clearly expressed will of all socialist parties without exception, unknown people are calling on you to go out armed onto the street. This is how they propose that you should protest against the disbanding of regiments that dishonoured themselves at the front by criminally abandoning their duty to the revolution.

As the authorised representatives of all Russia’s revolutionary democratic forces, we declare to you:

Army and front organisations demanded the disbandment of regiments at the front, which was carried out by the order of War Minister Comrade AF Kerensky, whom we chose.

The protests in defence of the disbanded regiments strike blows against our brothers who are spilling their blood at the front.

We remind the soldier comrades that not one military unit has the right to go out armed without the permission of the commander in chief, who is acting in full agreement with us.

We declare that all those who violate this decision during this critical time for Russia are traitors and enemies of the revolution. We will implement this decision by all the means at our disposal.

Bureau of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies; Bureau of the All-Russian Executive Committee of Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies.

‘Let the All-Russian Soviet take all power’

Worker and soldier comrades of Petrograd!

Given that the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie has obviously come out against the revolution, let the All-Russian Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies take all power into its hands.

This is the will of the revolutionary population of Petrograd, which has the right to bring its will, by means of peaceful and organised demonstration, to the attention of the Executive Committees of the All-Russian Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies, which is now in session.

Long live the will of the revolutionary workers and soldiers! Long live the power of the soviets!

The coalition government suffered failure. Unable to carry out the tasks for which it was created, it collapsed. The revolution faces enormous and extremely difficult tasks.

A new authority is needed that would, in unity with the revolutionary proletariat, the revolutionary army, and the revolutionary peasantry, resolutely fortify the people’s conquests. Only the soviets of workers’, soldiers’, and peasants’ deputies can be such an authority.

Yesterday, the revolutionary garrison of Petrograd and workers came out to advance the slogan “All power to the Soviet!” We call for the transformation of this movement, which flared up in the regiments and in the factories, into the peaceful, organised expression of the will of all of worker, soldier, and peasant Petrograd.

Central Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDWP); Petersburg Committee of the RSDWP; Inter-district Committee of the RSDWP; Military Organisation of the CC RSDWP; Commission of the Workers’ Section of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.

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