For a general strike against autocracy

One hundred years ago on March 12, 1917, (February 27 according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia at the time), socialists in Petrograd distributed the following appeal for an insurrectionary general strike to bring down Tsarism. That day, in the culmination of Russia's February revolution, Tsarist power crumbled with the fall of Nicholas II.

The day after the demonstration by women workers on February 23 (March 8), more than 200,000 striking workers marched into the center of Petrograd. Large numbers of students and middle-class professionals joined the demonstrations on February 25 (March 10). Soldiers at first hesitated to forcefully remove demonstrators, but on February 26 (March 11), some soldiers followed orders to shoot at demonstrators, killing hundreds.

As the senior member of the Russian Bureau of the Bolshevik Central Committee in Petrograd, Alexander Shlyapnikov encouraged workers to win soldiers over to their side during the first days of the February Revolution, but felt that armed struggle by socialists against the government was premature. Preferring direct armed action, the Bolshevik Vyborg District Committee scorned Shlyapnikov's position as denying the revolutionary character of the ongoing demonstrations.

The Petersburg Committee of the RSDRP called for Bolsheviks to take practical measures to organize and accelerate the pace of revolutionary developments. Yet the Interdistrict Committee (Mezhrayonka) of the RSDRP may have had the most influence upon radical socialist workers and soldiers during the February Revolution. It encouraged workers to prolong their strike and called upon soldiers to defend workers against police attacks.

The mutiny of the Volynsky regiment on February 27 (March 12) set an example for other soldiers. The February Revolution culminated that day, as Duma liberals formed a committee that would become the nucleus of the Provisional Government, Tsarist ministers resigned, and socialists formed the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.

The following proclamation of the Petersburg Interdistrict Committee was translated and the above annotation written by Barbara Allen, author of the biography Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik. It is part of the 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.

Revolutionary soldiers at the barricades in the early days of the February Revolution (George Shulkin | Wikimedia Commons)Revolutionary soldiers at the barricades in the early days of the February Revolution (George Shulkin | Wikimedia Commons)

PROLETARIANS OF all countries, unite!

Comrade workers! They are shooting us down! Workers' blood has been spilled on the streets of Petrograd! Hungry people rose to struggle, but the Tsar made them eat lead. Just as on January 9, 1905, when the servants of the autocracy shot down workers who went to the Tsar for justice and mercy, on February 25-26 they shot down hungry workers who went onto the streets to protest hunger and the reigning arbitrariness.

Comrades! They have committed a terrible, senseless, monstrous crime. During these days of the people's rage and also of merciless retribution against them, we were helpless against the policemen and handfuls of soldiers who were loyal to the Tsar. We could not fight back against their blows or take a life for a life. We were unarmed. Our fists were clenched in impotent rage. They beat us with their swords, their horses trampled us, and the defenseless people fled with hatred in their hearts toward the enemy.

Comrades! During these difficult days, the working class saw more clearly than ever before that without strong, powerful, proletarian organizations, fighting detachments, and without the army's support for the people, we won't break the enemy and destroy autocracy. Likewise, we learned during these days that our brothers the soldiers do not always obey orders to carry out fratricide. We hail the Cossacks who chased the mounted police from Znamenskaya Square. We hail and give fraternal thanks to the soldiers of the Pavlovsky Regiment who shot at a detachment of mounted police near the Cathedral of Resurrection.

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

Soldiers are beginning to see the light. They understand that their enemy is not the starving, oppressed people, but the Tsarist autocracy. During these difficult days for workers, only part of the soldiers, students, and citizens supported us. The State Duma, which is not truly representative of the people, is criminally silent. While the stones cry out for vengeance, the State Duma is deaf and blind to the people's woe.

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COMRADES! Not only do they shoot us down, but they also cast us onto the streets to suffer hunger and destitution. Putilov and Trubochnyi factories have been shut down. Fifty thousand workers have been deprived of a morsel of bread!

Comrades! Whoever still has a conscience and is neither a slave nor a pitiful traitor to the workers' cause will hear our appeal and will join us to unanimously protest merciless international war.

Comrades! Bring activity in the city to a standstill. Let all the factories, mills, workshops, and printing presses come to a halt. Let the electricity go out. We summon you to a general strike of protest, to strike a blow against the despotic autocracy. We, the Social Democratic Bolsheviks and Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries, summon the proletariat of Petersburg and of all Russia to organize and feverishly mobilize our forces.

Comrades! Organize underground strike committees in the mills and factories and link districts to one another. Collect funds for underground printing presses and for weapons. Get ready, comrades! The hour of decisive struggle approaches. We will not fear General [S.S.] Khabalov [commander of the Petrograd Military District], who dares to call us traitors. It is not we workers who betray the people, but those traitors and murderers, the [V.A.] Sukhomlinovs [War Minister] and the Khabalovs. The State Duma and the liberals betray the people.

Comrades! Khabalov orders us to go back to work on the 28th, but we summon you to struggle and to a general strike!

Be brave! All for one and one for all!

Long live the general political strike of protest!

Always remember our fallen brothers!

Down with war!

Down with autocracy!

Long live revolution!

Long live the Provisional Revolutionary Government!

Long live the Constituent Assembly!

Long live a democratic republic!

Long live the international solidarity of the proletariat!

Petersburg Interdistrict Committee of the RSDRP

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Source: Published in Russian in A.G. Shliapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 1, 1923, pp. 337-338. Translated by Barbara Allen.

Historical References:
-- Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, The February Revolution: Petrograd, 1917, University of Washington Press, 1981, pp. 258-261.

-- S.A. Smith, Russia in Revolution: An Empire in Crisis, 1890 to 1928, Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 101-102.

-- Rex A. Wade, The Russian Revolution, 1917, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 29-45.

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.