The Bolsheviks retreat in order to advance

July 19, 2017

One hundred years ago this week, the Bolsheviks responded to the "July Days" repression by calling on working people to ignore provocations and expose rightist slanders.

The July demonstrations, driven by mass unrest in the Russian army, subsided quickly due to the Provisional Government's success in painting the Bolsheviks as German-sponsored saboteurs of the Russian war effort; an upsurge in violence associated with the demonstrations; and news that loyal troops were on their way to Petrograd. The government quickly shut down the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda, evicted the Bolsheviks from their party headquarters, and arrested many of their leaders. Lenin escaped arrest by going underground and fleeing in disguise to Finland.

The two appeals below--both dated July 18, 1917 (July 5 according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia at the time)--represent the Bolsheviks' responses to the developing situation. 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.

Don't Yield to Provocation

Calm and restraint!

Workers, soldiers!

The demonstration of July 16-17 (3-4) has ended. You told the ruling classes what your goals are. Dark and criminal forces are casting a shadow over your demonstration by calling for blood to be shed. Together with you and all revolutionary Russia, we mourn for the recently fallen sons of the people. Responsibility for the victims falls upon the underground enemies of the revolution. But they did not and will not succeed in distorting the meaning of our demonstration.

Now it remains to wait and see what response your appeal, "All Power to the Soviets," will meet across the entire country. The demonstration has ended. Days of persistent agitation to enlighten the backward masses and to enlist the provinces to join our side are beginning anew.

Worker and soldier comrades! We call upon you to be calm and practice restraint. Don't give the malicious forces of reaction any reason to accuse you of violent acts. Don't yield to provocation. Don't come out onto the streets or engage in any clashes.

Troops fire on a demonstration of workers, soldiers and sailors in Petrograd during the July Days
Troops fire on a demonstration of workers, soldiers and sailors in Petrograd during the July Days (Viktor Bulla | Wikimedia Commons)

Worker comrades! Return peacefully to your workbenches.

Soldier comrades! Remain peacefully in your units.

Everything that exists is working in our favor. Victory will be ours. There is no need for rash acts.

Steadfastness, restraint, and calm are our watchword.

Central Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party (RSDWP)
Petersburg Committee of the RSDWP
Military Organization of the RSDWP
Inter-district Committee of the United Social-Democratic Internationalists
July 18 (5), 1917

Slander Should Be Exposed

To the people of Petrograd! To workers! To soldiers! To all honest citizens! Slander should be exposed! Take the slanderers to court!

An unprecedented accusation has been lodged against Comrade Lenin--the charge that he received and still receives money from German sources for his agitation. Newspapers have already aired this monstrous slander. Already we see underground leaflets making reference to the former deputy [Grigory] Alexinsky. They already print calls to murder Bolsheviks. Deceived soldiers are already circulating, from hand to hand, lists of people who may be exterminated.

What else to read

Read other leaflets, statements and documents from the Russian Revolution in this series titled "1917: The View from the Streets" edited by John Riddell.

Bolshevik leaflet
To the revolutionary students of Russia

Mezhraionka leaflet
The day of the people's wrath is near

Menshevik leaflet
Only a provisional government can bring freedom and peace

Bolshevik leaflet
For a provisional revolutionary government

Mezhraionka leaflet
A day to prepare for conquering the enemy

Mezhraionka leaflet
For a general strike against autocracy

Mezhraionka leaflet
Soldiers, take power into your own hands!

Polish socialist workers' appeal
The only guarantee of Polish independence

Petrograd Soviet appeal
Joining together to achieve peace

Petrograd Soviet Executive appeals
Calling for peace...and renewed offensives

Bolshevik and Petrograd Soviet Executive appeals
A Bolshevik appeal finds an echo in the streets

Bolshevik and Petrograd Soviet Executive appeals
Responses to the July Days uprising

Bolshevik leaflets
The Bolsheviks retreat in order to advance

Albert Rhys Williams
On the left sat the Bolsheviks

Albert Rhys Williams
The soldiers in revolt

Albert Rhys Williams
Comrades of the sea

Albert Rhys Williams
The mighty cry of "All power to the Soviets"

Albert Rhys Williams
Making a new date in history

Albert Rhys Williams
The taking of the Winter Palace

Albert Rhys Williams
The red convicts of Cherm

The goal is clear. The counterrevolutionary forces want to use the simplest means to deprive the revolution of a leader, to sow discord among the masses and to stir them up against the most popular leaders--the meritorious worthy fighters for revolution.

We declare: All information about Comrade Lenin's financial ties or other ties to the ruling classes of Germany is a lie and slander.

[Grigory] Alexinsky, who initiated the case, is a notorious slanderer, who has accused many people of having been bribed by the Germans. In France, a union of journalists from Russia, Britain, Italy and neutral countries already condemned him for dishonesty and malicious slander and excluded him from all the democratic organizations of Paris. He was not admitted to the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.

We demand from the Provisional Government and from the Central Executive Committee of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies an immediate, public investigation of all the circumstances surrounding the mean conspiracy by pogromists and hired slanderers against the honor and lives of the leaders of the working class.

This entire affair needs to be cleared up. This investigation will convince all the people that there is not even one stain on comrade Lenin's revolutionary honor.

Take the slanderers and distributors of slander to court! Subject pogromists and liars to public ridicule!

Central Committee of the RSDWP
July 18 (5), 1917

Afterword by Barbara Allen

This installment is the last in this series of leaflets taken from Alexander Shlyapnikov's memoir The Year 1917 which breaks off in the month of July. Subsequently, Shlyapnikov led the Petrograd Metalworkers' Union in successfully negotiating a wage rates agreement with factory owners.

Yet the inability of a wage rates agreement to address fundamental inequities in the relationship between workers and owners encouraged Shlyapnikov's revolutionary impulses in the fall of 1917. He gave his support (and 50,000 rubles from the union treasury) to help achieve the objective of Soviet power in October 1917.

After the Bolsheviks came to power, Shlyapnikov became People's Commissar of Labor. For more information on his role in the Russian revolutionary movement and subsequent fate, see Barbara C. Allen, Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik (Haymarket Books, 2016).

Source: Both documents reprinted in A.G. Shlyapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 4, 1931, 282, 300. Translated by Barbara Allen.

Historical References:
-- Barbara C. Allen, Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik (Haymarket Books, 2016), pp. 89-90.

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.

Further Reading

From the archives