Soldiers, take power into your own hands!

One hundred years ago on March 14, 1917 (March 1 according to the Julian calendar then in use in Russia), the Social Democratic Interdistrict Committee (Mezhrayonka), supported by the Petersburg Committee of Socialist Revolutionaries, issued an appeal to soldiers.

At that time, the Duma Committee and the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies were striving to bring order to the revolutionary events on the streets and to prevent the Tsarist autocracy from restoring its control over the city. Dominated by moderate socialists, the soviet pursued a policy of cooperation with liberals in the Duma.

Nonetheless, the Soviet's "Order No. 1," issued on March 14 (March 1) in response to soldiers' pressure and published on March 15 (March 2), called for soldiers to elect representative committees all along the chain of command, stipulated that officers treat soldiers respectfully, and asserted the soviet's primary influence over soldiers by stating that they should obey only Duma commands that did not contradict soviet resolutions.

The Duma Committee announced the formation of the Provisional Government on March 15 (March 2), and Nicholas II abdicated on behalf of himself and his son. By March 16 (March 3), the autocracy had collapsed. Thus, the ground had been prepared for the period of "dual power" in Petrograd--between the rival Duma and Provisional Government and the Petrograd soviet--that prevailed between the February and October Revolutions.

The Interdistrict Committee, co-authors of the appeal below, wanted to rally all the factions of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party (RSDLP), but later in 1917 fused with the Bolshevik current. Their leaflet here presented a militant alternative to the Duma Committee's course. According to historian Michael Melancon, it circulated on March 14 (March 1), 1917, probably before Order No. 1 was issued, and may have influenced the wording of Order No. 1. Alexander Shlyapnikov, who published the leaflet in 1923, states that the cxecutive committee of the Petersburg Soviet confiscated it on the morning of March 15 (March 2).

This leaflet 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.

Russian soldiers celebrate the end of Tsarist rule following the February Revolution (Wikimedia Commons)Russian soldiers celebrate the end of Tsarist rule following the February Revolution (Wikimedia Commons)

COMRADE SOLDIERS!

It has come to pass! You enslaved peasants and workers arose, and with a crash the autocratic government collapsed in disgrace.

Soldiers! The people were patient for a long time. The peasants long suffered under the power of the gentry landowners, the land captains, the district police officers and the whole gang of servants of the tsarist autocracy. Millions of peasants became swollen from hunger while the State Treasury, the monasteries and the landowners seized all the land, and while the nobles got fat from sucking the people's blood. Without land, the peasant cannot even put his chickens out to feed!

Brother soldiers!

As peasants, as workers, what do you need? All the land and full freedom--that is what you need! You did not shed your blood in vain. For two days Petrograd has been under the power of soldiers and workers. It has been two days since the dissolved State Duma elected a Provisional Committee, which it calls a Provisional Government. Still, you have not heard a word from [M.V.] Rodzianko [chair of the Duma] or [P.N.] Miliukov [Kadet Party leader and Provisional Committee spokesman] about whether the land will be taken from the gentry landowners and given to the people. The prospects are poor!

Soldiers! Be on your guard to prevent the nobles from deceiving the people!

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!

Go ask the Duma: Will the people will have land, freedom, and peace?

Soldiers! Why does the Duma say nothing about this? Autocratic arbitrariness needs to be completely uprooted. The people's cause will perish unless we conclude the business by convening the Constituent Assembly, to which all peasants and all workers would send their deputies--not like in the current Duma, composed of the wealthy and highest ranks of society, which dooms the people's cause!

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TAKE POWER into your hands, so that this Romanov gang of nobles and officers does not deceive you. Elect your own platoon, company and regiment commanders. Elect company committees for managing food supplies. All officers should be under the supervision of these company committees.

Accept only those officers whom you know to be friends of the people.

Obey only delegates sent from the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies!

Soldiers! Now, when you have arisen and achieved victory, those coming to join you include not only friends but also officers, who are former enemies and who only pretend to be your friends.

Soldiers! We are more afraid of the fox's tail [intrigues] than the wolf's tooth [outright aggression]. Only the workers and peasants are your true friends and brothers. Strengthen your unity with them! Send your delegate-representatives to the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, already supported by 250,000 workers in Petrograd alone. Your representatives and worker deputies should become the people's Provisional Revolutionary Government. It will give you both land and freedom!

Soldiers, listen to us! Demand an answer from the Duma right now. Will it take land from the gentry landowners, state treasury and monasteries? Will it transfer land to the peasants? Will it give the people complete freedom? Will it convene the Constituent Assembly? Don't waste time!

Soldiers! Talk about this in your companies and battalions! Hold meetings! Elect from among you commanders and representatives to the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.

All land to the peasants!

All freedom to the people!

Long live the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies!

Long live the Provisional Revolutionary Government!

Petersburg Interdistrict Committee of the RSDRP
Petersburg Committee of Socialist Revolutionaries

March 1917

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Source: Published in Russian in A.G. Shliapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 1, 1923, pp. 306-308. Translated by Barbara Allen.

Historical References:
-- Michael Melancon, "From the Head of Zeus: The Petrograd Soviet's Rise and First Days, 27 February-2 March 1917," The Carl Beck Papers in Russian & East European Studies, The Center for Russian and East European Studies, University of Pittsburgh, November 2009, pp. 37-39. Melancon translates long excerpts from the leaflet.

-- Rex A. Wade, The Russian Revolution, 1917, Cambridge, 2000, pp. 45-52, 101-102.

Historical Sources on the Mezhrayonka:
Here are some English-language articles on the Interdistrict Committee (Mezhrayonka), originator of this and several other leaflets in the "View from the Streets" series.

-- Melancon, Michael. "Who Wrote What and When: Proclamations of the February Revolution in Petrograd, 23 February-1 March 1917," Soviet Studies, volume 40 (1988), pp. 479-500.

-- White, James D. "The February Revolution and the Bolshevik Vyborg District Committee (In Response to Michael Melancon)," Soviet Studies, volume 41 (1989), pp. 602-624.

-- Longley, D.A. "The Mezhraionka, the Bolsheviks, and International Women's Day: In Response to Michael Melancon," Soviet Studies, volume 41 (1989), pp. 625-645.

-- Thatcher, Ian D. "The St. Petersburg/Petrograd Mezhraionka, 1913-1917: The Rise and Fall of a Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party Unity Faction," The Slavonic and East European Review, volume 87, no. 2 (April 2009), pp. 284-321.

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.