A Bolshevik appeal finds an echo in the streets
One hundred years ago today, on June 22 (June 9, according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia at the time), the Bolshevik Party circulated the first proclamation below, drafted by Joseph Stalin, with the aim of reaching workers in Petrograd. Nine days later, the Bolsheviks' slogans promoted in this appeal won mass support at a giant demonstration called by the Petrograd soviet.
In mid-May, the Bolshevik Military Organization (BMO) had proposed to the party's Central Committee (CC) a demonstration opposing the Provisional Government's planned military offensive. Fearing that such an action was premature, the CC was not receptive. BMO organizers became more insistent over the coming weeks, as soldiers worried about attempts to restore military discipline and to transfer them 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 from June 16 through July 7 (June 3-24). The CC remained undecided--Lenin supported a demonstration, as did most Petrograd committee members, while Kamenev was against.
Worker unrest over the Provisional Government's attempt to expel anarchist-communists from its headquarters created more friction. An expanded meeting of Bolshevik Party organizations on June 21 (8) revealed majority support for a demonstration by workers and soldiers on June 23 (10). The Bolshevik leaflet helped prepare for the demonstration.
The second document is the response by the All-Russian Congress of Soviets to the Bolsheviks' appeal. The demonstration proposed by the Bolsheviks encountered opposition in the Congress, which appealed to military units and factory workers not to march. In the early morning hours of June 23 (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 July 1 (June 18), which attracted almost 500,000 participants. However, due to the efforts of Bolsheviks, Left SRs and anarchists, this demonstration was dominated not by the moderate politics that still predominated in the soviets, but by radical slogans for ending the war, opposing the coalition government and its military offensive, and transferring all power to the soviets--precisely what the Bolsheviks had argued for.
These documents were selected and translated, and the above annotation written, by Barbara Allen, author of the biography Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik. They are part of an SW series giving a view from the streets during the 1917 Russian Revolution. The series is edited by John Riddell and co-published at his website.
The Bolshevik Proclamation Calling for a Demonstration
To all laborers, workers, and soldiers of Piter [Petrograd]: Comrades!
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 off the war.
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 increase in the cost of living is throttling the population. Prices keep increasing, per the whims of robber-speculators.
The sinister specter 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 [illegitimate] June 3rd Duma* 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, Kerensky's 'declaration' 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 that 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 beginning 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 ten 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 organization of industry!
It's time to end the war! Let the Soviet of deputies announce just conditions of peace!
Neither a separate peace with Wilhelm, nor secret treaties with French and English capitalists!
Bread! Peace! Freedom!
* Editor's note: Socialists regarded the State Duma as illegitimate because it was elected under undemocratic voting rules enacted by Tsarism in 1907 that gave landowners and capitalists a predominant voice. The Tsarist regime enacted these rules after having arbitrarily dissolved the previous Duma on June 3 that year.
Tthe All-Russian Congress of Soviets Proclamation Opposing a Demonstration
Soldier 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 recognized 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 favor 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.
All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies
Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies
Executive Committee of the All-Russian Soviet of Peasant Deputies
Organizational Committee of the RSDRP [Menshevik]
Central Committee of the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries
Central Committee of the Bund
Central Committee of the Laborite Group [Trudoviks]
Ukrainian fraction of the All-Russian Congress
Fraction of United Internationalists of SD Bolsheviks and Mensheviks of the All-Russian Congress
Military Section under the Organizational Committee and Committee of the Petrograd Organization of the RSDRP.
Source: Both documents reprinted in A.G. Shlyapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 4, 1931, p. 404-406. Translated by Barbara Allen.
-- Alexander Rabinowitch, Prelude to Revolution: The Petrograd Bolsheviks and the July 1917 Uprising (Indiana University Press, 1968, reprinted in 1991), pp. 54-79.
Rex A. Wade, The Russian Revolution, 1917 (Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 179-180.
A note on Russian dates: The Julian calendar used by Russia in 1917 ran 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that is in general use today. In the "View from the Streets" series, centennials are reckoned by the Gregorian calendar; dates are given with the Gregorian ("New Style") date first, followed by the Julian date in parentheses.