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[Classics] History of the Russian Revolution


The Counter-Revolution Lifts Its Head

During the first two months, when the power belonged formally to the government of Guchkov and Miliukov, it was as a fact wholly in the hands of the Soviet.

During the following two months the Soviet grew weaker. A part of its influence upon the masses went over to the Bolsheviks; a part of its power the minister-socialists took with them into their portfolios in the Coalition Government. From the outset of preparations for the offensive there began an automatic increase of the influence of the commanding staff, the organs of finance capital and the Kadet party. Before shedding the blood of the soldiers, the Executive Committee carried out a substantial transfusion of its own blood into the arteries of the bourgeoisie. Behind the scenes the threads of all this were held in the hands of the embassies and governments of the Entente.

At an inter-allied conference in London the western friends “forgot” to invite the Russian ambassador. Only after he had reminded them of his existence, did they send him an invitation – it was about ten minutes before the opening of the session – and moreover there was no place for him at the table, and he had to crowd in between the Frenchmen. This mockery of the ambassador of the Provisional Government and the demonstrative exit of the Kadets from the government – both events happening on the 2nd of July – had the same purpose: to bring the Compromisers to their knees. The armed demonstration, bursting out just after this, had an especially exasperating effect upon the soviet leaders, because having been struck this double blow, they were at the time directing all their attention in exactly the other direction. Once it had become necessary to take up a bloody task in alliance with the Entente, it would be hard after all to find better intermediaries than the Kadets. Chaikovsky, one of the oldest revolutionists, who had become metamorphosed after long years abroad into a moderate British Liberal, moralized as follows: “Money is necessary for war, and the Allies will not give money to socialists.” The Compromisers were embarrassed by this argument, but fully understood the force of it.

The correlation of forces had obviously changed to the disadvantage of the people, but nobody was able to say how much: The appetites of the bourgeoisie, at least, had grown considerably more than their opportunities. In this uncertainty lay the source of the conflict, for the strength of class forces is tested in action, and all the events of a revolution reduce themselves to these repeated trials of force. However great may have been the shift of power from left to right, in any case it very little affected the Provisional Government which remained a vacant space. The people who in those critical July Days were interested in the ministry of Prince Lvov could be counted on the fingers of one hand. General Krymov, the same one who once had a conversation with Guchkov about overthrowing Nicholas II – we will soon meet this general for the last time – sent the prince a telegram concluding with the urgent demand: “It is time to pass from words to deeds.” The advice sounded funny, and merely further emphasised the impotence of the government.

“At the beginning of July,” subsequently wrote the Liberal, Nabokov, “there was one short moment when the authority of the government seemed again to lift its head; that was after the putting down of the first Bolshevik uprising. But the Provisional Government was unable to make use of this opportunity, and let slip the favorable conditions of the moment. It was never repeated.” Other representatives of the right camp have expressed themselves to the same effect. In reality, in the July Days as in all other critical moments, the constituent parts of the coalition were pursuing different goals. The Compromisers would have been perfectly ready to permit a final wiping out of the Bolsheviks, had it not been obvious that after settling with the Bolsheviks, the officers, Cossacks, Cavaliers of St. George and shock battalions would have cleaned up the Compromisers themselves. The Kadets wanted to carry through, and sweep away not only the Bolsheviks but the soviets also. However, it was no accident that at all acute moments the Kadets found themselves outside the government. In the last analysis what pushed them out was the pressure of the masses, irresistible in spite of the buffer provided by the Compromisers. Even if they had succeeded in seizing the power, the Liberals could not have held it. Subsequent events conclusively proved this. The idea of a lost opportunity in July is a retrospective illusion. At any rate, the July victory did not strengthen the government, but on the contrary opened a prolonged period of crisis which was formally resolved only on the 24th of July, and was in essence an introduction to the four months’ death agony of the February régime.

The Compromisers were torn between the necessity of reviving their half-friendship with the bourgeoisie, and the need of softening the hostility of the masses. Tacking became for them a form of existence. Their zigzags became a feverish tossing to and fro, but the fundamental line kept swinging sharply to the right. On the 7th of July, a whole series of repressive measures was decreed by the government. But at the same session, and so to speak by stealth, taking advantage of the absence of the “old man” – that is, the Kadets – the minister-socialists proposed to the government that it undertake to carry out the program of the June congress of the soviets. This, however, straightway led to a further disintegration of the government. The great landlord and former president of the land union, Prince Lvov, accused the government of “undermining” with its agrarian policy “the popular sense of right.” The landlords were worried not only lest they be deprived of their hereditary possessions, but lest the Compromisers “attempt to place the Constituent Assembly before the fact of a decision already arrived at.” All the pillars of the monarchist reaction now became flaming partisans of pure democracy! The government decided that Kerensky should occupy the position of Minister-President, retaining also the portfolios of war and navy. To Tseretelli as the new Minister of the Interior fell the task of responding in the Executive Committee to questions about the arrest of the Bolsheviks. A protesting question was raised by Martov, and Tseretelli unceremoniously answered his old party comrade that he would rather deal with Lenin than Martov: with the former he knew what to do, but with the latter his hands were tied ... “I take upon myself the responsibility for these arrests”: the minister threw this challenge into the tensely attentive hall.

In dealing blows to the left, the Compromisers would justify themselves by citing a danger to the right. “Russia is threatened with a military dictatorship,” declared Dan at the session of July 9th. “We are obliged to snatch the bayonet from the hand of the military dictator. And this we can do only by declaring the Provisional Government a Committee of Public Safety. We must give it unlimited powers, so that it may root out to the bottom anarchy on the left and counter-revolution on the right. As though in the hands of a government fighting against workers and soldiers and peasants there could be any other bayonet but the bayonet of counter-revolution! By 253 votes with 47 abstaining, the joint session adopted the following resolutions: “1. The country and the revolution are in danger. 2. The Provisional Government is a government of the Salvation of the Revolution. 3. It is endowed with unlimited powers.” The resolution resounded as loud as an empty barrel. The Bolsheviks present at the session abstained from the voting, which testifies to an indubitable disconcertedness among the heads of the party at that time.

Mass movements, even when shattered, never fail to leave their traces. The place of the titled nobleman at the head of the government was now occupied by a radical lawyer. The Ministry of the Interior was occupied by a former hard-labor convict. The plebeian transformation of the government was at hand. Kerensky, Tseretelli, Chernov, Skobelev, leaders of the Executive Committee, now determined the physiognomy of the government. Was not this a realization of the slogan of the June Days, “Down with the ten minister-capitalists”? No, this was only an exposure of its inadequacy. The minister-democrats took the power only in order to bring back the minister-capitalists. La Coalition est morte, vive la coalition!

The comedy is now put on – the solemnly shameful comedy of the disarming of the machine-gunners on Palace Square. A series of regiments are disbanded, the soldiers are sent in small detachments to fill up the ranks at the front. Forty-year-old men are brought to submission, and herded into the trenches. They are all agitators against the régime of Kerenskyism. There are tens of thousands of them, and in the autumn they will accomplish a great work in the trenches. At the same time the workers are disarmed, although with less success. Under pressure from the generals – we shall see in a minute what forms it took – the death penalty is reintroduced at the front. But on the same day, the 12th of July, a decree is published limiting the sales of land. That belated half-measure, adopted under the axe of the muzhik, provokes mockery from the left and a grinding of teeth on the right. While forbidding all processions in the streets – a threat to the left – Tseretelli warns of the prevalence of unlegalized arrests – an attempt to pull up the reins on the Right. In removing the commander-in-chief of the forces of the Petrograd district, Kerensky explains to the Left that this is because he broke up the workers’ organizations, to the Right that it is because he was not decisive enough.

The Cossacks became the veritable heroes of bourgeois Petrograd. “There were occasions,” relates the Cossack officer, Grekov, “when upon the entrance into a public place, a restaurant for example, of someone in a Cossack uniform, all would stand up and greet the newcomer with applause.” The theaters, the moving-picture houses, the public gardens, instituted a series of benefit evenings for the wounded Cossacks and the families of the slain. The bureau of the Executive Committee found itself compelled to elect a commission, with Cheidze at the head, to participate in the organization of a public funeral for the “warriors fallen while fulfilling their revolutionary duty in the days of July 3-5.” The Compromisers had to drink the cup of humiliation to the dregs. The ceremonial began with a liturgy in the Isaakievsky Cathedral. The pall-bearers were Rodzianko, Miliukov, Prince Lvov, Kerensky and they marched in procession to the burial-place in the Alexandr-Nevsky Monastery. On the line of march the militia were not to be seen; order was preserved by the Cossacks. The day of the funeral was the day of their complete dominion of Petrograd. The workers and soldiers slain by the Cossacks, own brothers of the February martyrs, were buried secretly, as were the martyrs of January 9th under tzarism.

The Kronstadt Executive Committee was ordered by the government, under threat of a blockade of the island, to put Raskolnikov, Roshal and ensign Remnev at the disposal of the Court of Inquiry. At Helsingfors, Left Social-Revolutionaries were for the first time arrested along with Bolsheviks. The retired Prince Lvov complained in the newspapers that “the soviets are beneath the level of state morals and have not yet cleansed themselves of Leninists – those agents of the Germans ...” It became a matter of honor with the Compromisers to demonstrate their state morals. On July 13th the Executive Committees in joint session adopted a resolution introduced by Dan: “Any person indicted by the courts is deprived of membership in the Executive Committees until sentence is pronounced.” This placed the Bolsheviks in fact beyond the law. Kerensky shut down the whole Bolshevik press. In the provinces the land committees were arrested. Izvestia sobbed impotently: “Only a few days ago we witnessed a debauch of anarchy on the streets of Petrograd. Today on the same streets there is an unrestrained flow of counter-revolutionary Black Hundred speeches.”

After the disbandment of the more revolutionary regiments and the disarming of the workers, the resultant of the composition of forces moved still farther to the right. A considerable part of the real power was now clearly in the hands of the military chiefs, the industrial and banking and Kadet groups. The rest of it remained as before in the hands of the soviets. The dual power was still there, but now no longer the legalized, contactual or coalitional dual power of the preceding two months, but the explosive dual power of a clique – of two cliques, the bourgeois-military and the compromisist, who feared, but at the same time needed each other. What remained to be done? To resurrect the Coalition. “After the insurrection of July 3-5,” says Miliukov quite justly, “the idea of a Coalition not only did not disappear, but acquired for the time being more force and importance than it had possessed before.”

The Provisional Committee of the state Duma unexpectedly came to life at this time and adopted a drastic resolution against the Government of Salvation. That was the last straw. All the ministers handed their portfolios to Kerensky, thereby making him the focus of the national sovereignty. In the further development of the February revolution, as also in the personal fate of Kerensky, that moment acquired an important significance. In the chaos of groupings, resignations and appointments, something in the nature of an immovable point had been designated around which everything else revolved. The resignation of the ministers served only as an introduction to negotiations with the Kadets and industrialists. The Kadets laid down their conditions: responsibility of the members of the government “exclusively to their own conscience”; complete unity with the Allies; restoration of discipline in the army; no social reforms until the Constituent Assembly. A point not written down was the demand that the elections to the Constituent Assembly be postponed. This was called a “non-party and national program.” A similar program was advanced by the representatives of trade and industry, whom the Compromisers had tried vainly to set against the Kadets. The Executive Committee again confirmed its resolution endowing the Government of Salvation with “unlimited powers.” That meant agreeing to the government’s independence of the soviets. On the same day Tseretelli as Minister of the Interior sent out instructions for the taking of “swift and decisive measures putting an end to all illegal activities in the matter of land relations.” The Minister of Food Supply, Peshekhonov, likewise demanded an end of all “violent and criminal manifestations against the landlords.” The Government of the Salvation of the Revolution recommended itself above all as a government of the salvation of the landlord’s property. But not that alone. An industrial magnate, the engineer Palchinsky, in his three-fold calling as director of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, plenipotentiary administrator of fuel and metal, and head of the Commission on Defence, was conducting an energetic campaign for syndicated capital. The Menshevik economist, Cherevanin, complained in the economic department of the Soviet that the noble undertakings of the democracy were going to smash against the sabotage of Palchinsky. The Minister of Agriculture, Chernov, to whose shoulders the Kadets had shifted the accusation of German connections, felt obliged “for purposes of rehabilitation” to resign. On July 18, the government, in which socialists predominated, issued a decree dissolving the unsubmissive Finnish Seim [1] with its socialist majority. In a solemn note to the Allies on the third anniversary of the World War, the government not only repeated the ritual oath of loyalty, but also reported the happy putting down of an insurrection caused by agents of the enemy. A priceless documentary record of bootlicking! At the same time a fierce law was promulgated against transgressions of discipline on the railroads. After the government had thus demonstrated its statesmanly maturity, Kerensky finally made up his mind to answer the ultimatum of the Kadet party. His answer was to the effect that the demands presented by it “could not serve as an obstacle to its participation in the Provisional Government.” This veiled capitulation was, however, not enough for the Liberals. They had to bring the Compromisers to their knees. The central committee of the Kadet party declared that the governmental declaration issued after the break-up of the coalition on July 8 – a collection of democratic commonplaces – was unacceptable to them, and broke off the negotiations.

It was a concentrated attack. The Kadets were acting in close union, not only with the industrialists and Allied diplomats, but also with the army generals. The head committee of the League of Officers at headquarters functioned under the de facto leadership of the Kadet party. Through the high commanding staff the Kadets brought pressure against the Compromisers on their most sensitive side. On July 8th the commander-in-chief of the southwestern front, General Kornilov, gave orders to open fire upon retreating soldiers with machine-guns and artillery. Supported by the commissar of the front, Savinkov – former head of a terrorist organization of Social Revolutionaries – Kornilov had before this demanded the introduction of the death penalty at the front, threatening otherwise to resign the command. A secret telegram had immediately appeared in the press. Kornilov was trying to get publicity for himself. The supreme commander-in-chief, Brussilov, more cautious and evasive, wrote to Kerensky in pedagogical tone: “The lessons of the great French Revolution, partially forgotten by us, nevertheless forcibly call themselves to mind ...” These lessons lay in the fact that the French revolutionists, after vainly trying to reorganize the army “upon humane principles” afterward adopted the death penalty and “their triumphal banners filled half the world.” This was all that the general had learned from the book of revolution. On July 12, the government restored the death penalty “in war time for certain major crimes committed by men on military duty.” However, the commander-in-chief of the northern front, General Klembovsky, wrote three days later: “Experience has shown that those military units in which there have been many replacements have become utterly incapable of fighting. An army cannot be healthy if the source of its replacements is rotten. This rotten source of replacements was the Russian people.

On the 16th of July, Kerensky called a conference of the older military chiefs at headquarters with the participation of Tereshchenko and Savinkov. Kornilov was absent. The recoil on his front was in full swing, and came to a stand only several days later when the Germans themselves called a halt on the old state frontier. The names of the conferees, Brussilov, Alexeiev, Ruszky, Klembovsky, Denikin, Romanovsky, sounded like the last echo of an epoch that was disappearing in the abyss. For four months these high generals had been regarding themselves as half-dead. They now came to life and, considering the minister-president an incarnation of the revolution which had so vexed them, spitefully pinched and slapped him with impunity.

According to headquarters’ figures, the army on the southwestern front had lost between June 18 and July 6, 56,000 men. An insignificant sacrifice measured by the scale of the war! But two revolutions, the February and the October, cost a great deal less. What had the Liberals and Compromisers got out of the offensive besides death, destruction and disaster? The social earthquakes of 1917 changed the aspect of one-sixth of the earth’s surface and opened new possibilities before humanity. The cruelties and horrors of revolution – which we have no desire either to soften or deny – do not fall from the sky. They are inseparable from the whole process of historic development.

Brussilov made a report on the results of the offensive begun a month before: “Complete failure.” Its cause lay in the fact that “the officers, from the company commander to the commander-in-chief, have no power.” How and why they lost it, he did not say. As for future operations: “We cannot get ready for them before spring.” While insisting like the rest upon repressive measures, Klembovsky expressed a doubt whether they could be real. “The death penalty? But is it possible to put to death whole divisions? Court-martials? But in that case half of the army would be in Siberia The chief of the general staff reported: “Five regiments of the Petrograd garrison disbanded; the instigators court-martialled ... In all about 90,000 men will be transferred from Petrograd.” This news was received with satisfaction. It did not occur to anybody to ponder the consequences of an evacuation of the Petrograd garrison.

As to the committees, said Alexeiev, “they must be abolished ... Military history extending over thousands of years has created its laws. We tried to violate these laws, and we have had a fiasco.” This man confused the laws of history with the rules of the drill-master. “People followed the old banners as sacred things and went to their deaths,” boasted Ruszky. “But to what have the red banners brought us? To the surrender of armies in whole corps.” The decrepit general had forgotten that he himself in August 1915 reported to the Council of Ministers: “The contemporary demands of military technique are beyond our powers; in any case we cannot keep up with the Germans.” Klembovsky insisted with spiteful pleasure that the army had not really been ruined by Bolsheviks, but by “other persons” who had introduced a good-for-nothing military code, “persons who do not understand the life and conditions of existence of an army.” This was a direct slap at Kerensky. Denikin came down on the ministers more decisively: “You have trampled them in the mud, our glorious war banners, and you will lift them again if you have a conscience ...” And Kerensky? Suspected of lacking a conscience, he humbly thanked the military boor for his “frankly and justly expressed opinion.” And as for the declaration of rights of the soldier: “If I had been minister when it was drawn up, the declaration would not have been issued. Who first put down the Siberian sharp-shooters? Who first shed blood to bring the disobedient into line? My appointee! My commissar!” the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tereshchenko, ingratiated himself with this consoling observation: “Our offensive even though unsuccessful has increased the confidence in us of the Allies.” The confidence of the Allies! Was it not for this that the earth rotated upon its axis?

“At the present time the officers are the sole bulwark of freedom and the revolution,” declaimed Klembovsky. “The officer is not a bourgeois,” explained Brussilov, “he is the most real proletarian.” General Ruszky added: “Generals also are proletarian.” To abolish the committees, restore power to the old chiefs, drive politics – and that means revolution – out of the army: such was the program of these proletarians with a general’s rank. And Kerensky did not object to the program itself; he was only troubled about the date. “As for the proposed measures,” he said, “I think that even General Denikin would not insist upon their immediate introduction ...” Those generals were mere drab mediocrities, but they could hardly have failed to say to themselves: “That’s the kind of language to use with these fellows!”

As a result of the conference there was a change in the high command. The compliant and flexible Brussilov who had replaced the cautious bureaucrat Alexeiev, the latter having opposed the offensive, was now removed, and General Kornilov named in his place. The change was variously motivated: to the Kadets they promised that Kornilov would establish iron discipline; they assured the Compromisers that Kornilov was a friend of the committees and commissars; Savinkov himself vouched for his republican sentiments. In answer to his high appointment the general sent a new ultimatum to the government: He, Kornilov, would accept the appointment only on the following conditions: “Responsibility only to his own conscience and the people; no interference in the appointment of the high-commanding staff; restoration of the death penalty at the rear.” The first point created difficulties. Kerensky had started the business of “answering to his own conscience and the people,” and this particular business does not tolerate competitors. Kornilov’s telegram was published in the most widely circulated liberal papers. The cautious politicians of the reaction puckered their noses. Kornilov’s ultimatum was merely the ultimatum of the Kadet party translated into the forthright language of a Cossack general. But Kornilov’s calculations were right: The exorbitant demands and impudent tone of his ultimatum delighted all the enemies of the revolution, and above all the regular officers. Kerensky took fright and wanted to remove Kornilov forthwith, but found no support in his government. In the end, upon the advice of his backers, Kornilov agreed to concede in an oral statement that by responsibility to the people he meant responsibility to the Provisional Government. For the rest, the ultimatum was accepted with some slight qualifications. Kornilov became commander-in-chief. At the same time the military engineer, Filonenko, was appointed as his commissar, and the former commissar of the southwestern front, Savinkov, was made general administrator of the War Ministry. The one was an accidental figure, a parvenu, the other a man with a big revolutionary past – both of them pure adventurers, ready for anything. Filonenko at least was ready for anything, and Savinkov was ready for much. Their close connection with Kornilov, promoters of the swift career of the general, played its rôle as we shall see in the further development of events.

The Compromisers were surrendering all along the line. Tseretelli asserted: “The Coalition is a union of salvation.” In spite of the formal split, negotiations were in full swing behind the scenes. In order to hasten the solution, Kerensky, in obvious agreement with the Kadets, resorted to a purely histrionic measure – a measure, that is to say, wholly in the spirit of his general policy, but at the same time useful to his goal. He resigned and left town, abandoning the Compromisers to their own desperation. Miliukov says on this theme: “By his demonstrative departure he proved to his enemies, rivals and adherents that, however they might look upon his personal qualities, he was indispensable at the present moment simply because of the political position he occupied between the two warring camps.” He won the game by giving it away. The Compromisers threw themselves upon “Comrade Kerensky” with suppressed curses and public prayers. Both sides, the Kadets and the socialists, easily persuaded the headless ministry to abolish itself, empowering Kerensky to form the government anew and at his sole personal discretion.

In order to drive out of their wits the already frightened members of the Executive Committees, the latest news was handed to ’them of the deteriorating situation at the front. The Germans were driving the Russian troops, the Liberals were driving Kerensky, Kerensky was driving the Compromisers. The Menshevik and Social Revolutionary factions were in session all night on July 24. Wearied out with their own helplessness, the Executive Committees, by a majority of 147 votes against 46, with 42 abstaining – unprecedented opposition! – finally ratified the turning over of unconditional and unlimited powers to Kerensky. At the Kadet Congress, sitting simultaneously, voices were raised for the overthrow of Kerensky, but Miliukov curbed this impatience, suggesting that they limit themselves for the present to bringing pressure to bear. This does not mean that Miliukov had any illusions about Kerensky, but he saw in him a point of application for the power of the possessing classes. Once having freed the government from the soviets, it would be no labor to free it from Kerensky.

In those days the gods of the Coalition remained athirst. The decree demanding the arrest of Lenin had preceded the formation of the transitional government of July 7. Now some firm act was needed to signalize the resurrection of the Coalition. Already on the 13th of July there had appeared in Maxim Gorky’s paper – the Bolshevik press no longer existing – an open letter from Trotsky to the Provisional Government which read: “You can have no logical foundation for excepting me from the implications of the decree under which Lenin, Zinoviev and Kamenev are liable to arrest. So far as concerns the political side of the question, you can have no reason to doubt that I am as implacable an enemy of the general policy of the Provisional Government as the above-named comrades.” On the night when the new ministry was created, Trotsky and Lunacharsky were arrested in Petrograd, and ensign Krylenko, the future Bolshevik commander-in-chief, on the front.

The new government, having got born into the world after a three-day crisis, had the appearance of a runt. It consisted of second and third-rate figures selected on the basis of a choice between evils. The Vice-President turned out to be the engineer Nekrasov, a left Kadet who on February 27 had proposed that they put down the revolution by turning over the power to one of the tzarist generals. A writer without party and without personality, Prokopovich, a man who had been dwelling on the borderland between Kadets and Mensheviks, became Minister of Trade and Industry. A former attorney general, afterward a radical lawyer, Zarudny, son of a “liberal” minister of Alexander II, was called to the Ministry of Justice. The president of the Executive Committee of the peasant soviet, Avksentiev, received the portfolio of the Interior. The Menshevik, Skobelev, remained Minister of Labor, and the People’s Socialist, Peshekhonov, became Minister of Provisions. The Liberals supplied equally secondary figures, men who played a leading rôle neither before nor after their appointment. Chernov somewhat unexpectedly returned to his post as Minister of Agriculture. In the four days between his resignation and this new appointment he had had time to rehabilitate himself. Miliukov in his History dispassionately remarks that the nature of the relation between Chernov and the German authorities “remained unexplained.” “It is possible,” he adds, “that the testimony of the Russian Intelligence Service and the suspicions of Kerensky, Tereshchenko and others went a little too far in this matter.” The reappointment of Chernov to the post of Minister of Agriculture was nothing more than a tribute paid to the prestige of the ruling party of the Social Revolutionaries – in which, by the way, Chernov was steadily losing influence. Finally, Tseretelli had the foresight to remain outside the ministry. In May he had thought that he would be useful to the revolution in the staff of the government; now he intended to be useful to the government in the staff of the Soviet. From this time on Tseretelli actually fulfilled the duties of a commissar of the bourgeoisie in the system of the soviets. “If the interests of the country should be transgressed by the Coalition,” he said at a session of the Petrograd soviet, “our duty would be to withdraw our comrades from the government.” It was no longer a question then – as Dan had not long ago vouchsafed – of crowding out the Liberals after using them up; it was a question of retiring in good season upon finding out that you had been used up. Tseretelli was preparing a complete surrender of power to the bourgeoisie.

In the first Coalition, formed on May 6, the socialists had been in the minority, but they were in fact masters of the situation. In the ministry of July 24, the socialists were in a majority, but they were mere shadows of the Liberals. “With a slight nominal predominance of socialists,” writes Miliukov, “the actual predominance in the cabinet unquestionably belonged to the convinced partisans of bourgeois democracy.” It would be more accurate to say bourgeois property. In the matter of democracy the thing was much less definite. In the same spirit, although with an unexpected motivation, Minister Peshekhonov compared the July with the May Coalition: At that time, he said, the bourgeoisie needed support from the left; now when counter-revolution threatens it needs support from the right. “The more forces we attract from the right, the fewer will remain of those who wish to make an attack upon the government.” This suggests a superb rule for political strategy: In order to raise the siege of a fortress, the best method is to open the gates from the inside. That was the formula of the new Coalition.

The reaction was on the offensive, the democracy in retreat. Classes and groups which had retired in fright during the first days of the revolution began to lift their heads. Interest which yesterday had lain concealed, today came into the open. Merchants and speculators demanded the extermination of the Bolsheviks and – freedom of trade. They raised their voice against all restrictions upon trade whatsoever, even those which had been introduced under tzarism. The food commissions which had tried to struggle with speculation were declared to blame for the lack of the necessities of life. From the commissions, hatred was transferred to the soviets. The Menshevik economist Grohman has reported that the campaign of the merchants “became especially strong after the events of July 3-4.” The soviets were held responsible for the defeat, the high cost of living and nocturnal burglaries.

Alarmed by monarchist intrigues and fearing some answering explosion from the left, the government on August 7 sent Nicholas Romanov and his family to Tobolsk. On the following day the new Bolshevik paper, Worker and Soldier, was suppressed. News was arriving from all sides of the mass arrests of the soldier committees. The Bolsheviks were able to assemble their congress at the end of July only semi-legally. Army congresses were forbidden. Congresses were now held by all who had been sitting at home: landlords, merchants, industrialists, Cossack chiefs, the clergy, the Cavaliers of St. George. Their voices sounded alike, distinguished only in the degree of boldness. The indubitable, although not always open, conductor of the symphony was the Kadet party.

At a Congress of Trade and Industry which early in August assembled about three hundred representatives of the most important industrial and stock-exchange organizations, the opening speech was made by the textile king, Riabushinsky, and he did not hide his light under a bushel. “The Provisional Government,” he said, “possesses only the shadow of power ... Actually a gang of political charlatans are in control ... (The government is concentrating on taxes, imposing them primarily and cruelly upon the merchant and industrial class ...) Is it expedient to give to the spendthrifts? Would it not be better in the name of the salvation of the fatherland to appoint a guardian over the spendthrifts?” And then a concluding threat: “The bony hand of hunger and national destitution will seize by the throat the friends of the people!” That phrase about the bony hand of hunger, generalizing the policy of lock-outs, entered from that time forth into the political dictionary of the revolution. It cost the capitalists dear.

There was held in Petrograd a congress of commissars of the provinces. These agents of the Provisional Government, who were supposed to stand like a wall around it, virtually united against it, and under the leadership of their Kadet nucleus took in hand the unhappy Minister of the Interior, Avksentiev. “You can’t sit down between two chairs: a government ought to govern and not be a puppet.” The Compromisers defended themselves and protested half-heartedly, fearing lest Bolsheviks overhear their quarrel with their ally. Avksentiev walked out of the congress as though he had got burnt.

The Social Revolutionary and Menshevik press gradually began to adopt the language of injury and complaint. Unexpected revelations began to appear on its pages. On August 6, the Social Revolutionary paper Dyelo Naroda, published a letter from a group of left junkers, mailed by them while on the road to the front. They were “surprised by the rôle being played by the junkers ... (Systematic striking of people in the face, participation in punitive expeditions characterized by executions without trial or investigation at a mere order from the battalion commander. (... Embittered soldiers have begun to snipe isolated junkers from hiding-places ...)” [?] Thus looked the business of restoring health to the army.

The reaction was on the offensive, the government in retreat. On August 7, the most popular Black Hundred agents, partisans of the Rasputin circles and of Jewish pogroms, were liberated from prison. The Bolsheviks remained in the Kresty Prison, where a hunger strike of arrested soldiers and sailors was impending. The workers’ section of the Petrograd soviet sent greetings on that day to Trotsky, Lunacharsky, Kollontai and other prisoners.

The industrialists, the commissars of the provinces, the Cossack congress in Novocherkassk, the patriotic press, the generals, the liberals, everybody, thought it would be impossible to hold the elections for the Constituent Assembly in September – best of all to postpone them to the end of the war. To this, however, the government would not agree. A compromise was found. The convocation of the Constituent Assembly was deferred to the 28th of November. The Kadets accepted this postponement, although not without grumblings. They were firmly counting on certain decisive events happening during the three remaining months, which would shift the whole question of the Constituent Assembly to a different level. These hopes were being more and more openly connected with the name of Kornilov.

The reclame surrounding the figure of this new “chief” henceforth occupied the center of the bourgeois policy. A biography of the “First People’s Commander-in-chief” was distributed in enormous quantities with the active co-operation of headquarters. When Savinkov, speaking as general administrator of the War Ministry, would say to the journalists, “We assume, etc.” – his “we” did not mean Savinkov and Kerensky, but Savinkov and Kornilov. The noise surrounding the name of Kornilov put Kerensky on his guard. Rumors were spreading more and more persistently about a conspiracy centering in the League of Officers at headquarters. Personal meetings between the heads of the government and the chiefs of the army in the first days of August only fanned the fires of their mutual antipathy. “Does that lightweight elocutionist think he can give orders to me?” Kornilov doubtless said to himself. “Does that dull and ignorant Cossack expect to save Russia?” Kerensky could not but think. And they were both right in their way. Kornilov’s program, which included the militarisation of the factories and railroads, the extension of the death penalty to the rear, and the subordination of the Petrograd military district and therewith the garrison of the capital to headquarters, became known in those days to the compromisist circles. Behind this official program another program – unexpressed but no less actual – could easily be guessed at. The left press sounded the alarm. The Executive Committee advanced a new candidate for commander-in-chief in the person of General Cheremissov. There was open talk of the impending retirement of Kornilov. The reaction became alarmed.

On the 6th of August, the council of the Union of Twelve Cossack Armies – the Don, the Kuban, the Tver, etc. – passed a resolution, not without help from Savinkov, to bring it “loudly and forcibly” to the attention of the government and the people that they would not be responsible for the behavior of Cossack troops at the front or rear in case of the removal of the “hero-chief,” General Kornilov. A conference of the League of Cavaliers of St. George even more forcibly threatened the government. If Kornilov was removed the League would immediately issue a war-cry to all the Knights of St. George, summoning them to united action with the Cossacks.” Not one of the generals protested against this active insubordination, and the press of the existing order printed with delight this resolution which contained the threat of civil war. The head committee of the League of Officers of the Army and Fleet sent out telegrams in which it placed all its hopes in “our dear leader, General Kornilov,” and summoned “all honest people” to express their confidence in him. A conference of “Public Men” of the right camp, sitting in Moscow during those days, sent Kornilov a telegram in which it joined its voice with those of the officers, the Georgian Cavaliers and the Cossacks: “All thinking Russia looks with hope and confidence to you.” It would be impossible to speak more clearly. The conference was attended by industrialists and bankers like Riabushinsky and Tretiakov, generals Alexeiev and Brussilov, representatives of the clergy, professors, and leaders of the Kadet party with Miliukov at their head. In the character of a smoke screen, representatives were present from a semi-fictitious “peasant union,” designed to give the Kadets some support among the peasant leaders. In the president’s chair loomed the monumental figure of Rodzianko, offering public thanks to the delegation of a Cossack regiment for putting down the Bolsheviks. The candidacy of Kornilov for the rôle of savior of the country was thus openly advanced by the most authoritative representatives of the possessing and educated classes of Russia.

After these preparations the high commander-in-chief appeared for a second time at the War Ministry for negotiations as to his program for the salvation of the country. “Upon his arrival in Petrograd,” says his chief of staff, General Lukomsky, describing this visit of Kornilov, “he went to the Winter Palace escorted by Tekintsi [2] with two machine guns. These machine guns were taken from the automobile after General Kornilov entered the Winter Palace, and the Tekintsi stood guard at the palace gate in order in case of need to come to the aid of the commander-in-chief.” It was assumed that the commander-in-chief might require military aid against the Minister-President. The machine guns of the Tekintsi were machine guns of the bourgeoisie aimed at the Compromisers who kept getting under their feet. Such was the position of this government of salvation so independent of the soviets!

Shortly after Kornilov’s visit a member of the Provisional Government, Kokoshkin, announced to Kerensky that the Kadets would resign “if Kornilov’s program is not accepted today.” Although without the machine guns, the Kadets were now talking to the government in the same ultimative language as Kornilov. And that was a help. The Provisional Government hastened to examine the report of the supreme commander, and to recognize in principle the possibility of adopting the measures proposed by him, “including the restoration of the death penalty at the rear.”

In this mobilization of the forces of reaction there was naturally included the All-Russian Council of Churches, which had for its official aim to complete the emancipation of the orthodox church from bureaucratic activities, but whose real aim was to protect it from the revolution. With the overthrow of the monarchy the church had been deprived of its official head. Its relation to the state, which had been its defence and protector from time immemorial, was now left hanging in the air. To be sure, the Holy Synod, in an epistle of March 9, had hastened to extend its blessing to the accomplished revolution and summon the people to “place their trust in the Provisional Government.” However, the future contained a menace. The government had kept silent on the church question as on all others. The clergy were completely at a loss. Occasionally from some far-off region – from the city of Verny on the borders of China – a telegram would come from a local cleric assuring Prince Lvov that his policy fully corresponded to the Testament of the Evangelists. Although thus tuning in on the revolution, the church had not dared to interfere in events. This was plainest of all at the front, where the influence of the clergy had evaporated along with the discipline of fear. Denikin acknowledges this: “Whereas the officers’ corps did for a long time fight for its military authority and power to command, the voice of the pastors was silent from the first days of the revolution and their every participation in the life of the soldiers came to an end.” The congresses of the clergy at headquarters and in the staffs of the army went by without leaving a trace.

The Council of Churches, although primarily a caste affair of the clergy itself, and especially of its upper tiers, nevertheless did not remain confined within the limits of the church bureaucracy. Liberal society tried with might and main to get hold of it. The Kadet party, having found no political roots among the people, fancied that a reformed church might serve as a transmitting mechanism between it and the masses. In the preparations for the meeting of the Council, an active rôle was played side by side with princes of the church, and even ahead of them, by temporal politicians of various tints, such as Prince Troubetskoy, Count Olsufiev, Rodzianko, Samarin, and by liberal professors and writers. The Kadet party tried in vain to create around the Council an atmosphere of church reform, stepping softly the while, lest some incautious motion might shake down the whole rotting structure. Not a word was said about the separation of church and state, either among the clergy or among the temporal reformers. The princes of the church were naturally inclined to weaken the control of the state over their inner affairs, but at the same time they desired that in the future the state should not only guarantee their privileged situation, their lands and income, but also continue to carry the lion’s share of their expenses. In their turn the liberal bourgeoisie were willing to guarantee to the orthodox church a continuance of its dominant position, but on the condition that it learn to serve the interests of the ruling class among the masses in the new style.

But just here the chief difficulties began. Denikin himself remarks with sorrow that the Russian revolution “did not create one single popular religious movement worth remarking upon. It would be truer to say that in proportion as new layers of the people were drawn into the revolution, they almost automatically turned their backs on the church, even where they had formerly been attached to it. In the country individual priests may still have had some personal influence, dependent upon their behavior in regard to the land question; in the cities it occurred to nobody, either among the workers or the petty bourgeoisie, to turn to the clergy for the solution of any problem raised by the revolution. The preparations for the Council of Churches were met with complete indifference by the people. The interests and passions of the masses were finding their expression in socialist slogans, not in theological texts. Belated Russia enacted her history in an abridged edition: she found herself obliged to step over, not only the epoch of the reformation, but that of bourgeois parliamentarism as well.

Although planned for in the months of the flood-tide of the revolution, the Church Council took place during the weeks of its ebb. This still further thickened its reactionary coloring. The constitution of the Council, the circle of problems it touched upon, even the ceremony of its opening – all testified to radical changes in the attitude of the different classes toward the church. At the divine services in the Uspensky Cathedral, side by side with Rodzianko and the Kadets, sat Kerensky and Avksentiev. The burgomaster of Moscow, the Social Revolutionary Rudner, said in his speech of greeting: “So long as the Russian people shall live, the Christian faith will burn in its soul.” Only yesterday those people had considered themselves the direct descendants of the prophet of the Russian Enlightenment, Chernishevsky.

The Council distributed printed appeals in all directions, prayed for a strong government, denounced the Bolsheviks, and adjured the workers in concert with the Minister of Labor, Skobelev: “Laborers, do your work, sparing no efforts, and subject your own needs to the welfare of the fatherland.” But the Council gave its more special attention to the land question. The metropolitans and bishops were no less frightened and embittered than the landlords by the scope of the peasant movement; fear for the church and monastery lands had seized hold of their souls more firmly than the question of the democratization of the parish. With threats of the wrath of God and excommunication from the church, the epistles of the Council demanded “an immediate restoration to the churches, monasteries, parishes, and private proprietors, of the land, forests and harvests of which they have been robbed.” Here it is appropriate to recall the voice crying in the wilderness! The Council dragged along from week to week, and arrived at the high point of its labors – the re-establishment of patriarchism [3] abolished by Peter two hundred years before – only after the October revolution.

At the end of July the government decided to call a State Conference of all classes and social institutions of the country to meet in Moscow August 13. Membership in the conference was to be determined by the government itself. In direct contradiction to the results of all democratic elections which had taken place in the country without a single exception, the government took care to make sure in advance that the conference should contain an equal number of representatives from the possessing classes and the people. Only by means of this artificial equilibrium could the government of the salvation of the revolution still hope to save itself. This national congress did not possess any definite rights. To quote Miliukov: “The conference ... received at the most a merely advisory voice.” The possessing classes wished to give the people an example of self-abnegation, in order afterward the more surely to seize the power as a whole. Officially the goal of the conference was “a rapprochement between the state power and all the organized forces of the country.” The press talked about the necessity of solidarity, reconciliation, encouragement and of raising everybody’s spirits. In other words, they did not wish to say, and others were incapable of saying, for just what purpose the conference had been called. Here again, giving things their true names became the task of the Bolsheviks.


1. Parliament

2. Caucasian native cavalry

3. Before Peter the Great the heads of the church had called themselves patriarchs and had their own court, their own administration – were in effect a second order of tzars. He abolished this title and reduced the church to a department in his own administration. – Trans.

Source: Marxist Internet Archive


The February Revolution
Strikes and protests erupt on women's day in Petrograd and develop into a mass movement involving hundreds of thousands of workers; within 5 days the workers win over the army and bring down the hated and seemingly omnipotent Tsarist Monarchy.
Lenin Returns
Lenin returns to Russia and presents his ‘April Theses’ denouncing the Bourgeois Provisional Government and calling for “All Power to the Soviets!”
The June Days
Following the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets, the reformist leaders called a demonstration to show the strength of "democracy". 400,000 people attended, the vast majority carried banners with Bolshevik slogans.
The July Days
Spontaneous, armed demonstrations against the Provisional Government erupt in Petrograd. The workers and soldiers are suppressed by force, introducing a period of reaction and making the peaceful development of the revolution impossible.
The Kornilov Affair
Following the July days, the Bolsheviks were driven underground and the forces of reaction were emboldened. This process culminated in the reactionary forces coalescing around General Kornilov, who attempt to march on Petrograd and crush the revolutionary movement in its entirety.
The October Revolution
The Provisional Government is overthrown. State power passes to the Soviets on the morningm of 26th October, after the Bolsheviks’ Military Revolutionary Committee seize the city and the cabinet surrenders.
  • V. I. Lenin

    V. I. Lenin

    "The dominating trait of his character, the feature which constituted half his make-up, was his will..."
  • L. Trotsky

    L. Trotsky

    “Astounding speeches, fanfares of orders, the unceasing electrifier of a weakening army.”
  • G. Plekhanov

    G. Plekhanov

    "In the final analysis the brilliant aspects of Plekhanov’s character will endure forever."
  • G. O. Zinoviev

    G. O. Zinoviev

    "Zinoviev has won the reputation of being one of the most remarkable orators – a difficult feat."
  • Y. M. Sverdlov

    Y. M. Sverdlov

    “He did not die on the field of battle, but we are right to see him as a man who gave his life for the cause.”
  • V. Volodarsky

    V. Volodarsky

    “He was always to be seen in the front row, the on-the-spot leader. So, they killed him.”
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Reading Guides

  • The 1917 February Revolution

    The 1917 February Revolution

    The February Revolution saw a mass strike develop from below at a furious pace which posed the question of state power within a week of its inception. Workers in Petrograd took to the streets against intolerable bread shortages, the slaughter
  • Lenin Returns in April

    Lenin Returns in April

    This reading guide contains some of Lenin’s most important writings and speeches made in the April period, accompanied by works which provide further details of events at that stage of the Revolution.
  • The June Days 1917

    The June Days 1917

    This reading guide informs the May-June period of the Revolution with analysis, accounts of those who were involved and important speeches and writings of the time.
  • The July Days 1917

    The July Days 1917

    This selection of texts covers the background, events and consequences of the July Days. Next, we will turn our attention to one of those consequences – the Kornilov putsch in late August.
  • The Kornilov affair

    The Kornilov affair

    Kornilov’s failed coup brought the direct action of the masses into play again, and proved to them once and for all that they were the only force in society capable of transforming their own living conditions. For the first time,
  • The October Insurrection 1917

    The October Insurrection 1917

    The following series of articles provides in-depth analyses and first-hand accounts of the events immediately preceding, during and after the greatest event in human history: the October Revolution, in addition to reflections on its aftermath.
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