A Journal of People compilation
The First All-Russian Congress of Soviets begins in Petrograd. The Congress almost unanimously agrees to end World War I, though only through tremendous consternation agrees to support the Provisional Government, despite Bolshevik protests. Tensions flare between the parties, with the Mensheviks insisting that the Bolsheviks must be disarmed, despite not having weapons, which would in practice mean disarming the Soldiers’ Soviets. The Bolsheviks insist that all power must go to the Soviets.
First Congress of Soviets
The first convocation of a Congress of Soviets in Russia opened on June 3, 1917 and was attended by some 1,090 delegates (784 with full vote). Approximately: from 53 regional/provincial soviets (106 deputies), 305 local soviets (610 deputies), and 34 military organizations (68 delegates).
To which political parties’ delegates with the full vote belonged:
285 Socialist-Revolutionary (20 sympathetic to this party)
248 Mensheviks (8 sympathetic)
111 Other small parties (presumably 7 delegates did not answer)
The congress allowed every speaker to present their views, and lasted until June 24, when the delegates withdrew distraught over the lengthy debates. Among other resolutions, the Congress voted (with only 8 dissents) to convince the Allies to end the war with Germany and conclude a general peace as soon as possible. Votes on the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, the right of minority nations and peoples in Russia to self-determination, and the need for state control of the economy all passed unanimously.
While debating the position the Soviets should take towards the Provisional government, Tsereteli (Menshevik) stated that the soviet must support the Provisional government, for he claimed that no party in Russia was capable of forming a government otherwise. Lenin shouted from his seat in the Congress: “There is!”
The Congress voted 543 to 126 (52 abstentions) to support the Provisional government, though the socialist ministers in the Provisional government (SRs and Mensheviks) were told to be obliged to decisions made by the Soviets.
At its end, the Congress resolved to elect a Central Executive Committee (CEC) to act in the interim of its absence, for the Congress was not to meet for another three months.
Lenin speaks at the First All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies on the attitude to the Provisional Government.
The Parliament in Finland (a territory of Russia) declare Finland a sovereign state, except on questions of foreign policy and war. The Provisional Government sends troops to crush the Parliament, which soon wavers, and votes in favor of their own dissolution.
The Central Rada (formed in Kiev on March 4) proclaims the independence of the Ukraine. The ongoing Congress of Soviets unanimously supports this declaration of independence.
Lenin attends an enlarged meeting of the Party’s central committee and moves a resolution for a peaceful workers’ and soldiers’ demonstration.
Stalin makes a survey of the political situation in Petrograd at a private meeting of the Petrograd Committee of the RSDLP (B) devoted to the question of demonstration.
Night of June 9-10
Lenin attends a meeting of the Bolshevik group at the First Al-Russia Congress of Soviets, and, then a meeting of the central committee of RSDLP (B).On a motion tabled by Lenin, the central committee resolves to call off the demonstration fixed for June 10.
Late at night, Lenin prepares material for Pravda and CC directives in view of the CC’s decision to call off the demonstration.
Meanwhile, the demonstration the Bolsheviks planned to hold against the Government is banned. The Mensheviks then go factory to factory, telling workers not to stage a demonstration, who in turn berate the Mensheviks. The Mensheviks see a massive conspiracy – “The masses are thick with Bolsheviks” – and secretly ask the Cossacks to help them crush the Bolsheviks, to which the Cossack ataman replies: “We, Cossacks, will never go against the Soviet.” Whole regiments accept the ban on the demonstration solely on the basis of Bolshevik acceptance, whose party policy wholly accepts any and all decisions of the Soviet.
Early in June tension in Petrograd grew. The prolongation of the war by the Provisional Government, preparations for an offensive at the front, and food shortages, all caused resentment and indignation among the workers and soldiers. The government’s order to troops to take over the Durnovo country-house and evict the workers’ organizations on the Vyborgskaya Storona district from it gave rise to a strike. On June 7, four factories went on strike, and next day, twenty-eight. The masses were eager to hold a street demonstration.
To ward off provocation and unnecessary loss of life, a joint meeting of the Central and Petrograd Committees, the Military Organization, and district delegates from the workers and delegates from troop units, held on June 8, carried Lenin’s motion to hold a peaceful organized demonstration. The action was set for June 10.
The Bolshevik Central Committee’s decision to hold a demonstration brought a ready response from the masses and alarmed the government, as well as the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, who resolved to foil the demonstration. On the evening of June 9 the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets, led by them, passed a resolution banning all street demonstrations for three days.
On a motion by Lenin, the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, not wishing to go against the Congress decision, resolved on the night of June 9-10 to call off the demonstration. Members of the Central and Petrograd Committees and other prominent members of the Party were sent to factories and barracks to dissuade the workers and soldiers from demonstrating. As a result of their explanatory work, the workers and soldiers agreed that it would be unwise to hold a demonstration just then. This indicated the Party’s growing influence, its ability to keep in touch with the people, and the flexibility of the Bolshevik leadership. Two days later the S.R. and Menshevik leadership of the Congress of Soviets decided to hold a demonstration on June 18 – the day when the Russian troops were to take the offensive – as proof of the people’s “confidence” in the Provisional Government.
Under Lenin’s personal leadership, the Central and Petrograd Committees did a great deal to ensure that the demonstration reflected the true sentiment of the people and win that important peaceful battle against the Mensheviks and S.R.s for influence among the people. Lenin took part in preparations for the demonstration by formulating watchwords, checking the preparation of streamers and banners, giving directions to correspondents, writing telegrams to be sent to local Bolshevik organizations, taking steps to guarantee that there would be an adequate number of Bolshevik speakers, putting his own name on the list of speakers, and attending the Marsovo Polye meeting.
The Mensheviks continue their assault on the Bolsheviks, agitating that they be arrested, and claim the party is controlled by Germany. After days of debate, the Mensheviks drop their demand to disarm the workers. Further, realizing their support would vaporize following the dispersal of the June 10 protests, the Mensheviks put forward a motion to hold demonstrations on the 18th, and the Soviet passes the motion.
Kerensky launches a fresh offensive on the Eastern Front, despite incredibly low morale, poor supplies and logistics, and in the absence of sound strategic thinking. German counter-attacks bring devastating loses: 150,000 Russians are killed, with nearly 250,000 wounded. The pro-peace Bolsheviks show their massive support with an enormous demonstration against the war of 400,000 workers and soldiers in Petrograd, Moscow, Kiev, Kharkov, Ekaterinoslav, and other cities, nearly all protestors carrying banners echoing the Bolshevik line.
Meanwhile, under the cover of the demonstrations, the Anarchists attack several prisons, “liberating” 460 criminals. The Provisional Government turns this into propaganda, claiming the Bolsheviks helped. Many of the Petrograd Anarchists are arrested.
A demonstration brought some 500,000 Petrograd workers and soldiers out into the streets. By far most of the demonstrators carried Bolshevik revolutionary slogans. Only small groups carried the conciliating parties’ slogans expressing confidence in the Provisional Government. The demonstration revealed the heightened revolutionary spirit of the people and the vastly increased influence and prestige of the Bolshevik Party. It also revealed the complete failure of the petty-bourgeois conciliating parties backing the Provisional Government. Lenin dealt with the June demonstration in “The Eighteenth of June”, “Three Crises” and other articles.
In “The Eighteenth of June”, Lenin wrote:
“In one way or another, June 18 will go down as a turning-point in the history of the Russian revolution.”
The article said:
“The measured step of the battalions of workers and soldiers. Nearly half a million demonstrators. A concerted onslaught. Unity around the slogans, among which overwhelmingly predominated: ‘All power to the Soviets’, ‘Down with the ten capitalist Ministers’, ‘Neither a separate peace treaty with the Germans nor secret treaties with the Anglo-French capitalists’, etc. No one who saw the demonstration has any doubt left about the victory of these slogans among the organized vanguard of Russia’s workers and soldiers.
“The demonstration of June 18 was a demonstration of the strength and policy of the revolutionary proletariat, which is showing the direction for the revolution and indicating the way out of the impasse. This is the tremendous historical significance of last Sunday’s demonstration, and its essential difference from the demonstrations during the funeral of the victims of the revolution and on May Day.”
Lenin’s article said:
“June 18 was the first political demonstration of action, an explanation of how the various classes act, how they want to and will act, in order to further the revolution — an explanation not given in a book or newspaper, but on the streets, not through leaders, but through the people.”
“The bourgeoisie kept out of the way. They refused to participate in that peaceful demonstration of a dear majority of the people, in which there was freedom of party slogans, and the chief aim of which was to protest against counter revolution. That is natural. The bourgeoisie are the counter-revolution. They hide from the people. They organize real counter-revolutionary conspiracies against the people. The parties now ruling Russia, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, clearly showed themselves on that historic day, June 18, as waverers. Their slogans spoke of wavering, and it was obvious to all that the supporters of their slogans were in a minority. By their slogans and wavering they advised the people to remain where they were, to leave everything unchanged for the time being. And the people felt, and they themselves felt, that that was impossible.
“Enough of wavering, said the vanguard of the proletariat, the vanguard of Russia’s workers and soldiers. Enough of wavering. The policy of trust in the capitalists, in their government, in their vain attempts at reform, in their war, in their policy of an offensive, is a hopeless policy. Its collapse is imminent. Its collapse is inevitable. And that collapse will also be the collapse of the ruling parties, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks. Economic disruption is coming nearer. There is no escaping it except by the revolutionary measures of the revolutionary class which has taken power.
“Let the people break with the policy of trust in the capitalists. Let them put their trust in the revolutionary class — the proletariat. The source of power lies in it and only in it. It alone is the pledge that the interests of the majority will be served, the interests of the working and exploited people, who, though held down by war and capital, are capable of defeating war and capital!
“A crisis of unprecedented scale has descended upon Russia and the whole of humanity. The only way out is to put trust in the most organized and advanced contingent of the working and exploited people, and support its policy.
“We do not know whether the people will grasp this lesson soon or how they will put it into effect. But we do know for certain that apart from this lesson there is no way out of the impasse, that possible waverings or brutalities on the part of the counter-revolutionaries will lead nowhere.
“There is no way out unless the masses put complete confidence in their leader, the proletariat.”
Lenin holds a private meeting of the CC, RSDLP (B) to discuss the results of the June 18 demonstration.
The First All-Russia Congress of Soviets elects Stalin a member of the Central Executive Committee.
After the demonstration of the 18th, workers at the Putilov factory go on strike. The Bolsheviks, together with workers from 70 other factories, meet with the Putilov workers, sympathize with their grievances, but call for restraint. Workers are starving. Soldiers demand to be sent home to plough the fields: the 1st Machine Gun Regiment declares that “detachments shall be sent to the front only when the war has a revolutionary character.” Entire divisions of soldiers are arrested for disobedience. Soldiers are constantly demanding that Bolsheviks immediately overthrow the government, but the Bolsheviks need the support of the entire Soviet. Lenin understands that the present calamities will lead to a change in the Soviet, which will then enable a real, democratic, Soviet revolution.
Between June 20 and 23
Lenin speaks on the agrarian question at the All Russia Conference of the RSDLP (B) Organizations on the War and Home Fronts.
The Kronstadt Anarchists demand the liberation of Petrograd anarchists, lest they liberate them by force.
Izvestia reports plans by the Provisional Government to close a series of factories in Petrograd, potentially leaving thousands jobless. Meanwhile, the Oranienbaum garrisons inform the government that they support Kronstadt.
The Grenadier Guard Regiment returns from the front and joins the Kronstadt Anarchists.