February 1917 – Anatomy of a Revolution

History as a whole and the history of revolutions in particular is always richer in content, more varied, more multiform in character, more lively and ingenious than is imagined by even the best parties... Lenin_[1]_

First, the chronology …

February 23 1917. A century ago, on International Women’s Day (February 23 old style/ March 8 today), women workers of both home and factory took to the streets of Petrograd. Five days of strikes, demonstrations and over 1300 deaths later, the Tsarist edifice had crumbled. In these events, hundreds of thousands of men also took part but,

It was the women who initiated the action in most cases, primarily working women from the textile mills.”[2]

The final straw for the women workers had come with the breakdown in the supply of bread which began at the start of February when only half the food ordered for Petrograd arrived.

Long lines stretched in front of shops and bakeries. A winter unprecedented in severity had set in, filling the streets with ice and piling snowdrifts on the roofs of homes, sidewalks and bridges of the city. Shivering from cold, poorly dressed young people, women and old men waited hours for bread and often went home empty-handed. Food shortages provoked an even greater ferment among the masses. In line they discussed why there was no bread and why prices were still rising; they wondered who was responsible for the people’s misery and who needed the war. The Petrograd Okhrana observed that on days of severe crisis the queues had the same force as revolutionary meetings and tens of thousands of revolutionary leaflets. The street had become a political club.”[3]

The war made these conditions particularly exacting for women. Many were left having to work long hours in war industries after their men were conscripted for the front, as well as look after children, and spend what little free time they had in long lines queuing for bread and kerosene. Bread became the issue which sparked off uncontrollable rage. In the days before International Women’s Day bakeries had been sacked and bread shops stoned but what now transformed these bread riots into something more was that women (plus some male) workers held “stormy” mass meetings and decided to celebrate the day by going on strike and not just demonstrating. Having decided to down tools in one factory they then went round others, sometimes throwing snowballs at windows to attract other workers’ attention. Men and women poured out of factories to take part in demonstrations. All told that day somewhere between 80,000 and 120,000 workers, the vast majority of them women, went out on strike demanding bread, peace and, more ominously for the regime, an end to Tsarism.[4]

Workers stopped rapidly moving streetcars, forced motormen to halt, took away their operating wrenches, made passengers get out, turned the streetcars over and with shouts of “Hurrah!” moved on… Workers marched through the city’s streets in a militant and joyous mood, singing “La Marseillaise”, “Varshavianka”, “Comrades, Boldly in Step”, and other revolutionary songs. As they moved the demonstrations became living speakers’ tribunes. Calling for struggle against the war and the monarchy speakers were carried on the demonstrators shoulders. Red flags waved here and there above the moving crowds. The revolution had begun.”[5]

The propertied classes were soon to know it. In Petrograd factories were located in the suburbs but some were not so far from the city centre. These were found across the River Neva from the city’s administrative heart, in Vyborg, the Petrograd side and Vasilievsky Island. Others were located further away to the south (such as the famous Putilov works in Narva district) and east of the city centre. However in the various demonstrations emanating from all these points the cry went up that they should march to “Nevsky”. On or near the great boulevard of Nevsky Prospekt was where all the main bastions of the Tsarist state had their headquarters. Workers’ tradition played its part here as it would in so many of the events of the next few days. It was on Nevsky Prospekt by the Kazan Cathedral that the Narodniks (populists) had sponsored a demonstration back in 1876. Ever after it became a focal point for meetings and so, in 1917, workers once again headed for the square in front of Kazan Cathedral. To keep those from across the river joining the march on “Nevsky”, troops and police blocked the bridges, especially the strategic Liteinyi Bridge which led from Vyborg (a Bolshevik stronghold known for its militancy). However, due to the severity of the winter, the Neva was frozen thick, so workers who could not get past the police patrols on the bridges, simply walked across the ice.

In taking strike action women workers went against the advice from all the political organisations who wanted to confine this socialist anniversary, as previously, to a formal demonstration against the war[6]. The worker V.N. Kaiurov of the Vyborg District Committee of the Bolshevik Party later justified the advice he gave to keep calm.

We could feel the storm coming, but no-one could determine how it would be manifested. The highly charged mood of the masses forced the district committee to stop agitating, cease direct appeals for strikes and the like, and focus attention primarily on the maintenance of discipline and restraint during the upcoming demonstrations.”[7]

This wasn’t the view of all Bolsheviks. Although Alexander Shlyapnikov, the engineering worker and leading Bolshevik organiser in Petrograd, shared Kaiurov’s position he had earlier informed Lenin (in his Swiss exile) that

“It is reported from Kharkov that... certain comrades take the position that we are living in the era of social revolution”.[8]

There was no lack of evidence for this since there had been wave after wave of strikes since August 1916. It was at this point that a political strike movement, driven by acute food shortages and rising prices as a result of the war, had begun in earnest. From now on, “three quarters of the strikes between September 1916 and February 1917 voiced political opposition to the autocracy and the war”[9]. As a foretaste of things to come soldiers of the 181st Infantry regiment who were quartered in Vyborg (and thus an easier target for Left Socialist Revolutionary and Bolshevik agitation) joined workers on a march to the Finland Station on 17 October. Similarly, when news came through of the possible execution of revolutionary sailors in Kronstadt, 77 factories went on strike and the government had to back down[10].

Workers’ memories were stoked by strikes and demonstrations on every occasion that demanded commemoration. On 9 January 1917 109 workplaces had gone on strike to remember the anniversary of Bloody Sunday 1905.[11] Commenting on this strike only two days before the International Women’s Day demonstrations, the last French Ambassador to the Tsar sent this message to his government:

Please tell the President of the Republic and the President of the Council that you have left me very anxious. A revolutionary crisis is at hand in Russia; it nearly broke out five weeks ago and is only postponed. Every day the Russian nation is getting more indifferent towards the war and the spirit of anarchy is spreading among all classes and even in the army. About the end of last October a very significant incident occurred in Petrograd; I reported it to Monsieur Briand. A strike broke out in the Vibori [Vyborg – ed], quarter and as the police were very roughly handled by the workmen, two regiments which were in barracks in the vicinity, were sent for. These two regiments fired on the police. A division of Cossacks had to be hastily called in to bring the mutineers to their senses. So in case of a rising the authorities cannot count on the army. My conclusion is that time is no longer working for us, at any rate in Russia …” [12]

From this point on even the rumour of a Bolshevik leaflet was enough to spark off a strike. Seeing this radicalisation, the pro-war (“defencist”) Workers Group in the War Industries Committees (set up in 1915 to improve war production) felt compelled to urge workers to strike in favour of a new ministry. 11 of the Workers Group were then arrested and within a week a large strike at the Putilov works provoked the capitalists to lock out their workers on 22 February. This strike gave added impetus to the next day’s International Women’s Day demonstrations to create a movement which would sweep away centuries of Tsarism.

However the Bolsheviks in Petrograd themselves did not, at first, make the connection and, by all accounts, they were the best organised amongst all the revolutionary parties and groups in the capital. They thought that the simmering anger of the workers would not mature into a full-scale assault for a few more months, and that the ideal date would be the next great workers’ anniversary on May Day. In the meantime they felt that they should not be provocateurs of something that would go off at half-cock. They considered that the consequences of a defeat would only have set the revolutionary movement back. The spontaneous movement of a working class that had reached the end of its patience swept aside all that caution.

Ironically this caution of the revolutionaries may have assisted in the development of the movement on that first day. The fact that the state knew that revolutionaries were urging caution (all political organisations were deeply infiltrated by the Okhrana) meant that the forces of repression also underestimated the strength of the movement on International Women’s Day. On previous traditional workers’ anniversaries like January 9 the regime knew about the revolutionaries’ plans from their spies. They even knew how long strikes were planned to last. This was not the case on February 23. General Balk, the Petrograd City Governor later admitted that “Early on February 23 a strike involved half the factories and plants. I had no idea this would happen. This movement took us by surprise. No police units were on the streets. I called the units always available, mounted police, gendarmes and cavalry detachments”.[13]

These units brutally attacked the demonstrators with whips and truncheons. 23 were arrested, but no-one was shot. This was a conscious policy of the military commander of the Petrograd district, General Khabalov. It appears that some members of the Tsarist ruling class had also learned lessons from 1905. Although taken aback by February 23, Khabalov had previously drawn up general contingency plans to deal with “unrest” which the regime had long been expecting. Khabalov was later criticised as “indecisive” by other monarchists (i.e. for not shooting down demonstrators from day one), but his plan wasn’t bad as a policy of graduated repression went. The idea was that the police (with mounted units) alone would deal with “disturbances” on the first day and would not fire on demonstrators. Instead they used their batons and whips to crack skulls and lacerate bodies to break up any group of workers that they came across. Workers would run away and then regroup elsewhere but demonstrations and street meetings remained fairly scattered. At the end of International Women’s Day Khabalov could congratulate himself that things had gone pretty well. A few policemen had been badly injured but as this was just a “spontaneous” outburst then calm would soon be restored. His pre-emptive strikes a few days earlier, which included the smashing of the Bolshevik printing press and the arrest of many revolutionaries, should have ensured that no-one would be able to capitalise on the day’s anger.

Or so he thought. Whilst the ruling caste was breathing a sigh of relief the Bolsheviks were re-evaluating their position. In meetings that night in the Vyborg district they decided to take an active part in spreading the movement if it continued. According to Shlyapnikov, in his memoir of the February days,

We did not regard the movement that started on February 23 as the beginning of a resolute assault on the tsarist throne. But we took objective conditions into account. The workers’ economic position had sharply worsened, people were dissatisfied with the war, the bourgeoisie was displeased with the failure to win the war, and also the entire economic ruin was intensifying and the reaction was fierce, and thus we admitted a revolutionary hurricane might arise even from such an insignificant wind. Therefore we watched the movement of February 23 with extreme care and attentiveness, and all organisations were directed to develop the movement, not to limit it to a fixed period as was common in those times.”[14]

There were only, at most, 2000 Bolsheviks in Petrograd at this point, but the social character of the organisation was overwhelmingly working class. It was agreed that the Bolsheviks should go to work and wherever they could lead workers back onto the streets. Similar decisions seem to have been taken by some anarchists and those of the Inter-District (Mezhraionsty) Group of Social Democrats to which Trotsky (then in exile in the US) belonged. However the real dynamism of the movement at this point would have to come not from the relatively small politically organised parts of the class but from the enormous mass of workers themselves. The revolutionaries, particularly the Bolsheviks, were important in this movement but they did not direct it, except in the fact that it was what they had long been working for inside the wider working class.

From Protest to Insurrection

On Friday February 24 (March 9) the strikes developed an impetus which turned them from a protest into an insurrection. Workers went to their workplaces, but only to hold mass political meetings which decided to continue the strike and demonstrate as before. However many more plants and 200,000 workers were now involved. Serious fighting with the police and mounted troops now covered the city’s streets.

If the women workers had led the way on day one the star turn was preformed by the younger element (male and female) on day two.

Before the revolution progressive young workers had engaged in underground work, occupied themselves in study circles, distributed leaflets and participated in strikes. Now … They marched in the front ranks of the demonstrators, attended rallies and clashed with the police… They were the first to inform the workers that troops and police were approaching, tell them where demonstrators were to assemble, what rallies were scheduled and so forth. Young workers organized pickets to prevent resumption of work. The police reported on February 24 that crowds consisting chiefly of young workers were stopping streetcars, singing revolutionary songs and throwing chunks of ice, bolts and other objects at the police.”[15]

Magnificent heroism but ultimately doomed to failure if, as in 1905, the troops remained loyal to the regime. Workers had not forgotten that it was the Semyonovsky Regiment which had finished the revolution with their assault against the barricaded workers’ districts of Moscow in December 1905. It was imperative from the workers’ point of view that they won over at least a part of the garrison in Petrograd.

The softening-up process began on February 24. Although most of the mounted Cossacks initially did what they were told, there were one or two places where some sort of fraternisation or, more accurately, “sororisation”, took place. It was again mainly women who went up to groups of soldiers telling them about their lack of bread, explaining that their men too were at the Front etc. Their aim was to shame them about the role they were playing.

The Bolshevik worker Kairuov recalled the first instance where the troops’ support of the regime began to crumble. On Bolshoi Sampsonievsky Prospekt (in Vyborg)

The Cossacks drew themselves up about sixty or seventy feet in front of the demonstration … The officer’s command rang out, and the Cossacks, sabres bared, drove down on our totally defenceless unarmed column … Forcing their way through with their horses, their eyes bloodshot, the officers were the first to break into the crowd, and the Cossacks galloped behind … But such joy! The Cossacks rode single file into the aperture the officers had just opened. Some of them smiled, and one actually winked at the workers … Yells of “Hurrah” for the Cossacks rose from thousands of chests.”[16]

In Znamenskaia Square the other traditional rallying point on Nevsky Prospekt (later renamed and still known today as “Uprising Square”), the police were greeted with a hail of stones and wood from one of the biggest gatherings. The Cossacks, on the other hand, were greeted with cries of “Hurrah” to which they responded by bowing low to the crowd. A mass political rally then ensued in which speaker after speaker called for the overthrow of Tsarism, and an end to the war. However such incidents of troops not attacking the demonstrators were rare on day two. Elsewhere the Cossacks assisted the police in harassing and beating workers.

These efforts to quash the movement failed and on Saturday February 25 the number out on strike rose to 300,000. More and more were trying to get to the great meeting places on Nevsky Prospekt, whilst more police and troops were detailed to stop them. The workers’ strategy remained as before. Attack the hated police but avoid as much as possible clashes with the soldiers. This did not stop the Ninth Reserve Cavalry Regiment gunning down nine workers on the steps of the Petrograd City Duma on Nevsky Prospekt. Elsewhere though, the discipline of the Petrograd garrison was beginning to waver.

In many cases, however the soldiers and Cossacks were passive and left it to the police alone to move against the people who neutralized the tsarist army. Male and female workers seized rifles pointed at them and pleaded with the soldiers to support the people. The workers’ actions confused the soldiers and Cossacks and disorganized their ranks. Guns aimed at the people stopped firing. In some instances, soldiers and Cossacks indirectly aided the worker demonstrators and individual soldiers actually joined them. It was hard to capture such soldiers for the crowd helped hide them.”[17]

This was an important step because, as the mass of workers became more confident that the Army would come over to them, it meant that their courage increased and they took on the police more and more. The latter found it harder to arrest demonstrators and get them to prison as the workers would often fight back and release their comrades. Strikes and demonstrations were moving towards all-out insurrection. The demand for bread was now secondary to the demand for an end of Tsarism. And to make matters worse for the regime, this demand was supported by students who also went on strike, and even shopkeepers now joined the workers demonstrations.

The crunch came on the evening of February 25 when the Tsar sent his famous telegram to Khabalov.

I command the disorders in the capital end tomorrow. They are impermissible in time of war.”[18]

It left the military authorities no option but to take the step they had been trying to avoid – calling on the troops to gun down the demonstrators. In a pre-emptive strike to try to decapitate the leaders of any actions Khabalov had over 100 people considered “seditious” arrested that night (this included the members of the Petrograd Committee of the Bolshevik Party). Posters were also put up warning the workers that weapons would be used against them if they re-assembled.

February 26 became the second “Bloody Sunday” of Nicholas II’s reign. Sukhanov reported that in the morning

The streets were hung with General Khabalov’s new proclamations and others, torn down and crumpled, littered the ground. Publicly admitting in them his own helplessness and implying that his previous warnings had been of no avail, he was once again threatening decisive measures and a resort to arms against disorders and mobs … The last desperate throw was being made.”[19]

It certainly was. According to Chamberlin;

There was firing on the crowds in four separate places in the central part of the city; and on Znamenskaya Square the training detachment of the Volinsky regiment used machine guns as well as rifles, with the result that about forty persons were killed and an equal number were wounded.”

This was true but not the whole truth. Some members of the detachment first got into conversation with the crowds and were reluctant to follow orders. A Corporal Il’in was arrested by the unit’s Captain, Lashkevitch, who ordered new patrols to fire to break up the demonstration. However there was little sign of fraternisation elsewhere and more machine guns were put not only in the hands of the troops but also the police.

There was another uncomfortable moment for the government towards the end of the day which gave a foretaste of things to come.

Towards evening there was an outburst of rebellion in one company of the Pavlovsk regiment; but it was put down with the aid of other troops, and the ringleaders were imprisoned in the fortress of Peter and Paul.”[20]

The Government of the hapless Prince Golitsyn now felt confident enough to get the Tsar to dissolve the Duma[21] where the parties of the propertied classes had been negotiating to try to produce a government which “enjoyed the confidence of the country”. It was an irrelevant gesture since the masses of workers were not counting on the members of the Duma anyway. The next morning “the decisive hour of the Revolution struck.”[22]

The firing on the crowds on Sunday … was the snapping point in the frail cord of discipline that held the garrison of the capital. The mutiny that was to transform the prolonged street demonstrations into a genuine revolution started in the very unit which had inflicted the heaviest losses on the demonstrating crowds: the training detachment of the Volinsky regiment. During the night the soldiers discussed their impressions of the day’s shooting and agreed they would no longer fire on the crowds.”[23]

On the morning of February 27 the Volinsky troops told their Captain (the same Lashkevitch) that they would no longer shoot. He responded by reading out the Tsar’s order. This only sparked off a mutiny in which the captain himself was killed. The regiment poured out of the barracks and brought out the nearby Preobrazhensky and Litovsky regiments with them. For the troops this was no simple matter and many had hesitated between risking the firing squad for breaking their oath to the Tsar and joining the revolutionary working class movement. However the “molecular interpenetration of the army” (Trotsky)[24] finally took its toll. Only 600 troops (mainly as individuals) had joined the demonstrators by the night of February 26 but the following morning 10,200 came over to the workers. By the end of the day this had swelled to 66,700.[25] Moreover, those troops who did not actually take to the streets with the workers, could not be relied on to come to the aid of the regime.

From this point the wave of revolution was unstoppable. Although Shlyapnikov had refused to distribute the few weapons the Bolsheviks had (on the grounds that a few handguns would not make any difference when the main aim of the workers should be to win over the troops) some revolvers (often taken from the police) had found their way into workers’ hands. These were used sporadically to pick off policemen, a fact which seems to have encouraged the crowds to march more directly towards the lines of police and soldiers. In the demonstrations up until then workers had run down side streets to avoid fire and then regrouped back on the main street whenever they could. Now, although some of them would be killed, they marched frontally towards the armed defenders of the state. They seemed to recognise that they could not waste time and only this step could bring victory closer. Whilst the police did not waver, the conscript garrison of Petrograd was not prepared to carry out further shootings.

Khabalov was witnessing the unravelling of his forces. He had ordered armoured cars to attack the demonstrators but the squadron commander told him they would be ineffective when surrounded by a crowd. Although the cars were then disabled the workers repaired them quickly. They then used them to assault police stations and, more importantly, the Telephone Exchange which was still defended by the police. Once inside workers and students ordered the telephonists to disconnect all the lines to the government whilst some soldiers acted as sentries to make sure that the telephone system continued to work (rather inefficiently) for the revolution.

Whole sections of the city and key buildings were now in workers’ hands. A last attempt to disperse the crowd by General Kutepov’s punitive detachment led to many deaths on Liteiny Prospekt but the sheer numbers of demonstrators eventually overwhelmed them. As darkness fell, Kutepov realised he had lost his troops. They had simply melted into the crowd. The regime decided to retreat to defensive positions with the few reliable troops they had left but even this turned out to be impossible.

Workers and soldiers now were fraternising in more direct ways. Several regiments crossed the Liteiny Bridge into the working class district of Vyborg. As they approached the Finland Station they met a crowd of workers coming from the factories. Among them was Mikhail Kalinin (future head of the Soviet state). According to him the soldiers yelled “Where are our leaders? Lead us.” Kalinin claims he jumped on a platform and replied “If its leaders you want, Kresty (The Crosses) Prison is right here but first you have to free your leaders”. There were 7,600 prisoners (in a gaol designed for 4000) including members of all the opposition parties like the Bolshevik Petrograd Committee and the Menshevik leaders of the Workers Group in the War Industries Committee. Thousands of workers and soldiers surrounded the prison and eventually they simply stormed the main gate. Not only were all prisoners freed but all records were burned. The same scene was repeated at all the other prisons across Petrograd over the next few days.

By the morning of 28 February the few remaining defenders of Tsarism in the capital were counting on troops arriving from the front as their last hope. They came alright, but not to save the Tsar. As they came into contact with revolutionary workers and soldiers most of them went over to the revolution. Some even fought with their own officers who had tried to machine gun them. Even those stationed to defend the Tsar’s family at Tsarskoe Selo came over to the revolution.

Although almost the entire Petrograd garrison had now joined the revolution, the battle for the capital was not over. The hated “pharaohs”, as the police were called, having seen their stations ransacked, spread out across the city. Donning civilian clothes or soldiers greatcoats, they sniped at demonstrators from rooftops at strategic points (church belfries being a favourite) and tried to pick off as many of the demonstrators as they could. In combating this “The masses themselves displayed initiative and independence which was especially important in achieving this task”.[26]

On the evening of February 27 a Military Commission (nominally under the Provisional Government – see below) was set up to coordinate the despatch of troops to where they were most needed. This was either to defend key points of the city or answer workers’ demands to wipe out some machine gun nest or another. In the chaos of the moment it did not always work out neatly. The Military Commission were often too slow to act, so workers and soldiers took to guarding important public buildings on their own. This was necessary not only against the “pharaohs” but also against looters and those determined to take advantage of the breakdown of the system for their personal advantage. Amongst the latter were not only the criminals freed alongside the political prisoners, but those who still supported the regime. The latter egged on rioters to create chaos in order to discredit the revolution. It is testimony to the remarkable self-discipline of so many in the revolutionary camp that despite some looting and other understandable excesses (mainly against the police) very few of these attempts succeeded.

Soviet and Duma

Although the formal abdication of the Tsar did not come for another three days, the regime was effectively finished on February 28. However, sweeping away a hated old order is only the first task of a revolution. It immediately poses the question of what is to replace it. February 1917 would pose that question but it would not find an answer for another eight months. The working class had done the bulk of the fighting and dying on the streets[27] but they were not yet politically united behind any single idea about what was to come next. Liberal bourgeois histories usually lament that the democratic revolution of February 1917 was stolen by those wicked Bolsheviks in October but we can dismiss this as just class propaganda. In fact it was the other way around. The liberals and constitutional monarchists of the Kadets and the Progressive Bloc in the Duma huddled in their salons, discussing the horrors that were taking place on the streets. When the Tsar had simply ordered the dismissal of the Duma they were even more paralysed as they still did not want to act “illegally”!

It was only on February 27, when some soldiers and workers converged on the Duma’s seat in the Tauride Palace, that its ex-members hastily decided to form a “Provisional Committee” (which would soon metamorphose into the Provisional Government). Their aim was quite clear as expressed by the Kadet, Kogan, who announced that “a revolution has begun and we must do everything to prevent ‘irresponsible elements’ from leading it.” A monarchist deputy, Shulgin, pointed out that the workers were already forming soviets;

“… if we don’t take power, others will take it, those who have already elected some sort of scoundrels in the factories.”[28]

As Shulgin feared, those “scoundrels” aka the revolutionary working class, were already finding another solution to the political vacuum that the workers themselves had created. The legacy of 1905 had not been forgotten. As early as 25 February, shouts had gone up at the mass meeting in Znamenskaia Square, “Let’s elect a soviet of workers’ deputies”. A Bolshevik worker present there later recorded

On a teetering box by a lamp post, holding onto the grey pillars with one hand, stood a tall, broad-shouldered man with an animated face who looked like both a worker and a student. Gesticulating with one hand he cried “Comrades, the long-awaited hour has finally come. The people have risen against their oppressors. Don’t lose a minute, form neighbourhood workers’ soviets and draw soldier representatives into them”.”[29]

And in factories across the city elections of factory committees and delegates had begun even before a central soviet had been proclaimed. Both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks supported the move though with different perspectives. In September 1915, after a year of defeats the Russian liberal bourgeoisie, headed by the industrialist and monarchist Guchkov, had dreamed up the War Industries Committee to help organise supplies for the war. They were only papering over the cracks that had already appeared in the Tsarist state. The pro-war “defensist” Mensheviks had supported this (it fitted their notion of a gradual democratic revolution to see the bourgeoisie now playing “their real role” in the state) and under Gvozdev and Bogdanov they created a Workers Group to support the War Industries Committee. The Bolsheviks refused to participate in this and instead made their first call for a workers’ soviet.

In February 1917 the same difference in perspective was still to be found between Bolsheviks and the Menshevik majority when the Petrograd Soviet came into existence. For the Mensheviks the Soviet was only there to assist the “bourgeois revolution”, as epitomised in the Provisional Government, but for the Bolsheviks it was the political expression of an independent working class who had made the revolution. They were against any cooperation with the Duma. As yet though, they and other revolutionary elements, were in the minority.

So why did the Bolsheviks have so little influence in the formation of the Executive Committee of the Soviet when it was first formed? Bourgeois histories often argue that this was because the Bolsheviks played little part in the events of February. This is demonstrably untrue as the many memoirs of Bolshevik workers to the events testify. Marc Ferro tells us that on February 25th “the Bolsheviks were the main organisers of the strikes and parades.”[30] Marcel Liebman probably sums it up most accurately;

“The Bolshevik militants were not inactive ... they closely followed the events and took part in them. But they were unable to take the lead in the movement or put forward a clear programme of action...” [31]

This was hardly surprising given that their principal leaders were in exile, their next most experienced leaders (the Bolshevik Duma faction) had been banished to Siberia and even the Petrograd Committee had been arrested. Thus when, on 27 February, a crowd of 25,000, many of them soldiers from the nearby Preobrazhensky and Volinsky barracks, marched on the Tauride Palace (where the Duma sat) once again demanding “leaders” there were few Bolsheviks present. Furthermore street fighting was still going on and the left wing socialists and anarchists were still largely involved in that. As we saw earlier the Bolshevik Petrograd Committee had been released that day but decided to concentrate on ensuring the victory of the workers in the street and mostly remained in Vyborg. This allowed the Mensheviks led by Gvozdev, the pro-war leader of the Workers’ Group of the War Industries Committee, to proclaim that they had set up a “Provisional Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies” in the Tauride Palace and appealed to workers to elect delegates to it that very evening. Shlyapnikov did get to the Tauride Place by 7.00 p.m. – the proposed start time of the first Soviet sitting. He saw amidst the chaos that the workers and particularly Bolshevik workers were not well represented. He thus tried to delay the convening of the Soviet but the meeting went ahead with about 250, of which only 50 according to Shlyapnikov, were accredited workers’ delegates.

It wasn’t simply due to a Menshevik plot. With fighting still going (and many workers not yet aware that there was a soviet to elect) the representational arrangements at this stage were ad hoc and haphazard. There was supposed to be one delegate for every 1000 factory workers, and one delegate for each regiment. However, any smaller factories in which the Mensheviks predominated sent one delegate whatever the size of their workforce. The regiments elected far more delegates than they should have. Some were even represented by officers (commissioned and non-commissioned) who had gone over to the revolution. As the soldier element was two thirds of the Soviet, it can be seen that the working class as a whole was under-represented in the first days of the Petrograd Soviet.

The Soviet Executive that was then formed did not represent the working class as such since it was initially just selected from the representatives of the political organisations (with Mensheviks awarding themselves the biggest number of seats on the Executive). The Menshevik strategy was clear from the start. The mass of workers had no confidence in a Provisional Government drawn from the old Tsarist Duma. After all it was elected on the basis of a quota system intended to deny proper representation to either peasants or workers. When Milyukov, the Constitutional Democrat (Kadet) leader read out the list of new ministers there was some laughter and incredulity as no-one had heard of most of them, but the most telling comment came from an anonymous voice from the crowd, who asked “Who elected you?”.

This lack of credibility was to be papered over by the Mensheviks (and Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) who took their lead from them). They ensured that, at least in formal terms, the Soviet lent its support to the Provisional Government. Mensheviks, Right-wing SRs and bourgeois liberals were all agreed on one thing – the war to defend Russia’s imperialist interests must go on. Opposed to these “defensists” were the Bolsheviks, many anarchists, the Inter-District group and the Left SRs who had all been amongst the mass movement of February and continued to campaign for an end to the war. Whilst the former put their faith in a Provisional Government with dodgy credentials, the latter increasingly looked to the Soviet to take power and end the war. This dichotomy formed the backdrop to the unending class war of the next eight months of 1917.

… And now the Analysis

In the history of the Russian Revolution revolutionaries have tended to spend more time analysing the October Revolution, which brought the working class and the Soviets to power, than what went on in February. Reactionaries and bourgeois, on the other hand, have tended to dismiss October as a “coup” which undid all the democratic promise of the February Revolution. But, as we have shown here, the February Revolution was a spontaneous revolution led almost solely by the working class. It was the bourgeoisie, aided by those so-called socialist parties who supported capitalism, who now threatened to steal it. The working class was still fighting the regime when the Provisional Government was set up. They were not party to the deals struck in smoke-filled rooms between the bourgeois leaders of the Kadets and Progressives, and the representatives of the Mensheviks, Trudoviks and Socialist Revolutionaries.

February though deserves closer analysis by revolutionaries because it was the start of the process which led eventually to the overthrow of the shaky bourgeois regime of the Provisional Government. Neither event can be understood in isolation from the other. This process was one which continued to develop not only the revolutionary consciousness of the working class as a whole, but also enabled it to make this concrete in the form of its own political instrument – its class party. The working class did not just overwhelmingly support the Bolsheviks by the late autumn of 1917. They had transformed the Bolshevik Party both numerically and theoretically. In a sense they made it their own instrument. We will return to this point at a later date but for the moment let us look more closely at what made the Russian working class so revolutionary in 1917.

Clearly the material and political situation explains why the revolution developed after months of struggle. After two and half years of war nearly two million soldiers and one and half million civilians were dead (and at least the same number “missing”). On the home front the bread ration got smaller and real wages fell due to inflation. As workers could see that the rich bourgeois and landowners still living in “elegant grandeur”[32], there was plenty of combustible material around. Add to that the well-documented incompetence of a technologically backward, autocratic regime, the horrors inflicted on soldiers at the front by a regime that could neither arm or clothe them properly, and it seems like a miracle that nothing more serious had happened earlier.

There were similar stresses and strains in most of the belligerent powers by this time. Total war, imperialist war, was as much fought by economies as it was by armies. 1917 would see mutinies in the French army and the German Navy, strikes and the introduction of rationing in Britain, and food shortages in the Central Powers of German and Austria-Hungary, but none were in as desperate a condition as Tsarist Russia.

Russia’s late industrialisation meant that its young proletariat faced squalid social and economic conditions like that described in Manchester in 1843-4 by Engels. This was a little different (but not much) to workers in, say Britain, but some studies have shown that Petrograd workers were certainly materially better off than workers in Milan[33]. However there is one sense above all others where the situation in the Russian working class was unique. This was in the relationship between Russian workers and the state.

Elsewhere in Europe the labour movement had given birth to social democratic or labour parties and trades unions linked to them. Over time the social democratic movement had been able to wrest a few reforms regarding legal recognition and in some areas improvements in workers’ conditions. This relative success gradually drew the social democratic parties into the orbit of the capitalist state. In fact within social democracy many concluded with Eduard Bernstein that the advances made by both workers and their social democratic parties meant that the Marxist doctrine of class struggle and revolution was now obsolete. In his Evolutionary Socialism Bernstein argued that capitalism could be reformed and made to work for workers.

The classic case was Bernstein’s own German Social Democratic Party which went from being illegal under Bismarck to, within a few years, becoming the largest electoral party in the world. This came at a price. The Social Democratic Party in Germany had built up a large number of bases, owned a great deal of property in terms of newspapers, offices and workers’ social centres. When war came in 1914 the Social Democratic leaders thought only of the loss of all they had built over four decades. As a result they voted war credits for the Kaiser and supported army recruitment. This was repeated in many countries in 1914. Social peace was now proclaimed across Europe and the socialist and labour parties now demonstrated they were “inside the system”. Russia though was different. Sukhanov tells us why “Down with the War” dominated all the meetings of the February days”

The development of this slogan was quite inevitable. Russian Socialism, and the thinking Russian proletariat, unlike the Socialists of the Western European warring countries (with the exception of Italy), were for the most part resolutely against supporting the imperialist war. In the course of the war years our proletariat has been educated, as far as conditions allowed, in the spirit of Zimmerwald and the war against war. The defensist groups who had made themselves a niche in both capitals and here and there in the provinces had no authority whatsoever amongst the masses. There was nothing surprising or unexpected in the fact that a revolution against Tsarism should, at least amongst the proletariat of the capital, coincide with a movement in favour of peace”.[34]

As a Menshevik (though on its “Internationalist” wing, Sukhanov is too coy to mention that the main Zimmerwald party which had long called for war on war was the Bolsheviks. Indeed there were many social democrats in Russia (especially Mensheviks) who would have liked to emulate the models coming from Western Europe but the conditions for such a development did not exist. Whether they liked it or not the illegal status that they held until 1905 meant that there was no question of winning reforms or building a huge apparatus in Russia. After 1905 the socialist movement was in an ambivalent situation. Trades unions and socialist organisations were technically legal under the constitution but just about anything they did resulted in arrests of offenders and deportation to Siberia.

The Okhrana (secret police) had relatively few operatives, and was not generously funded, but it was incredibly effective at infiltrating revolutionary organisations (its double agents sometimes even assassinating leading figures of the regime!). The constant decapitation of the leadership of the revolutionary organisations ensured not only their relative weakness at the start of 1917 (as we have seen) but equally ensured that there was no danger that these organisations would reach an accommodation with the state.

On the shopfloor unions were technically legal after 1905 but they might as well not have been. The Russian industrialists were heavily dependent on government contracts and thus for the most part were loyal supporters of Tsarism right to the end of the regime.[35] As a result in every strike, or attempt to resist the management of any factory, the bosses’ first instinct was to call the police, who then arrested workers’ leaders and attacked their demonstrations.

It was ironic, in view of Lenin’s famous quotation (taken from Kautsky) about the working class only being able to achieve trades union consciousness, that in the struggles in Russia from 1912-17 a trades unionist mentality was totally absent. Shlyapnikov, the leading Bolshevik organiser in the metalworkers’ union, lamented the lack of union organisation and “trade union consciousness” in his memoirs.

There was little experience of persistent day-to-day struggle, as the trade unions were too weak; they lived under the threat of being closed down, and could not nurture or discipline a trade union type of struggle among the mass of workers.”[36]

Shlyapnikov, himself a highly skilled metalworker, focused on wages. He could not understand how the bosses got away with dividing the workers over pay rates which

were not even uniform among shops in the same workers. The employers cunningly divided workers according to earnings. Workers in the same shop and in the same trade, turning for example, would earn anything from two to six rubles a day on tools and jobs of almost equal complexity and precision.”

His explanation was that “the absence of trade-union organisation was apparent”. However this did not mean that the workers were not militant. On the contrary, it seems to have made them more militant since there was no real form of “mediation” with the bosses. Shlyapnikov had returned to work illegally in Russia in 1914 after a seven year absence. He now found that “enormous changes had taken place in the attitude of the workers … the absence of timidity and submissiveness which even then was strong in the plants of Petersburg, hit you in the eye. You sensed that the workers had matured considerably as individuals.” [37]

What it meant was that they had other ways of contesting the “frontier of control” with the management. Russian factory management was a long way from the more “scientific” exploitative techniques of Taylorism then being introduced in the United States.

Draconian forms of discipline, however, were as much a reflection of the political culture of Russia as of capital’s needs to socialise labour into the norms of factory life. The violent exercise of management power within the factory mirrored the violent exercise of power without.”[38]

Daily humiliation of workers by foreman in the workshops, beatings, fines for breaking factory rules or poor work were a daily occurrence. Petrograd also had the highest recorded instances for industrial accidents of any region in Russia. With the management refusing to allow for organs of mediation like the nascent unions, the class struggle on the shopfloor was at its most naked.

The foremen, supervisors, engineers all exercised their power in the same arbitrary way, untrammelled by any notion of workers’ rights. It is thus not surprising that workers who lacked any broad conception of the social system should have identified their main enemy not as the factory owner, but as the low-level administrators who were the bane of their everyday working lives. Strikes to remove foremen and their assistants were endemic prior to 1917 and demands for polite treatment by administrative staff figured prominently in strike demands … commenting on the importance of “dignity” issues the worker Timofeev said ‘the workers value proper treatment … and if they get it, are often ready to put up with many of the darker aspects of their conditions and discomforts of their work’.”[39]

“Dignity issues” lay behind many instant walkouts (“wildcat strikes” they would be called today, but in Russia at this time there really were no other kind). It was clear that despite the victory of the Tsarist regime at the end of 1905 (a victory that gave the regime 7 years of relative peace) the memory of that year of struggle had given workers new confidence. From the Lena Goldfield strikes in 1912 to January 1917 (with a quiet “patriotic” interlude that lasted for almost the first year of the War) the number of strike days in Petrograd rose and fell, but was generally on an upward curve from 40,000 to 200,000. And by January 1917 the number of “political” strikes was outnumbering “economic” strikes by three to one.[40] Even in so-called “economic strikes” (i.e. those pertaining to factory issues) the strike was often more about the management of the factory or the actions of individual foremen. Workers sometimes demanded the dismissal of a foreman or did not simply wait for the management to agree before they wheeled him out of the factory in a barrow (often accompanied by other indignities). In the early days of the February Revolution this was to be the fate of many foremen and managers. Professor Smith recounts the fate of a hated member of the pogromist, pro-Tsarist organisation, the Black Hundreds;

In the engine-assembly shop, Puzanov quondam chief of the factory’s Black Hundreds, was tossed in a wheelbarrow, red lead was poured over his head, and he was ignominiously carted out of the factory, and dumped in the street.”[41]

He was luckier than some others who were killed by angry workers, as workers settled scores with the most hated managers and foremen, but an examination of the revolution in the factories during 1917 will have to wait for the next article. Here we want to conclude with some observations on the nature of the February Revolution.


Every historic event, but especially one of world historic importance, has to be understood in the specific historical context of its time. We have tried to demonstrate here that the conditions which brought about the beginning of the Russian Revolution were, for the most part, unique to their time and place. We should not expect to see them repeated. Even so this does not stop us from drawing from what happened some lines of thought which are critical to revolutionary theory.

The first of these is that the Revolution of 1917 would not have been carried out with such dramatic force if the working class did not retain in their consciousness the memory of the 1905 Revolution. This is why, in the very midst of the street meetings, with fighting against the police still going on, the cry for a revival of the soviet went up. The revolutionary minorities of all parties and organisations played their part here by keeping alive this memory for the working class via their annual commemorative strikes and demonstrations.

Secondly (and this was also based on 1905, albeit from a more negative experience), from the beginning it was widely recognised that whilst there could be no dialogue with the police, the key was winning over the Petrograd garrison. Burdzhalov sums it up thus;

Although the movement was uncoordinated and lacked a single leadership, the insurgents adhered to a common tactic. They left factories and plants for the street, united into powerful demonstrations, and worked to draw the armed force of the autocracy to their side.”[42]

Without the arms that the conscripts brought to the revolutionaries the contest would have had the same outcome as in 1905. Getting those arms was one of the decisive factors in determining the collective purpose of the mass movement. We can call all this “spontaneous” but as Trotsky pointed out in his History of the Russian Revolution “the mystic doctrine of spontaneousness (sic) explains nothing”.[43] We need to look at this more closely. Writing two years after the event, Lenin pointed out that “Spontaneous outbreaks become inevitable as the revolution matures. There has never been a revolution in which this has not been the case, nor can there be such a revolution.”[44]

As the quotation from Lenin at the top of this article maintains, even the most perceptive of revolutionaries can never be certain when that might be. Burdzhalov talks only of the movement “lacking a single leadership”, not that it lacked leadership altogether. In fact he points out that Bolsheviks, Inter-district Group members, some Left SRs and some anarchists all worked in broadly the same direction within the mass movement of February 1917. The important fact is that they had been working inside the working class for years and had earned positions of trust from where they were able to give the wider movement direction. They did not just spring up when the system started to collapse. Even the International Women’s Day demonstration was instigated and prepared by members of the Bolshevik and Inter-district Group women’s circles. The Bolsheviks could not produce a leaflet for it, as their press had been destroyed, but the Inter-district Group did. It could have been produced by any one of the organisations who had opposed the war from the beginning.

Dear women comrades, are we going to put up with thus in silence much longer, now and then venting our rage on small shop owners? After all they are not to blame for the people’s suffering, they are being ruined themselves. The government is to blame! It started the war and cannot end it. The government is ruining the country and causing us to go hungry. The capitalists are to blame! The war brings them profits. Its high time to cry out to them: “Enough!”. Down with the criminal government and the whole gang of robbers and murderers! Long live peace!”[45]

The spontaneous movement may have lacked a single leadership but it did not lack “leaders”. They often took the initiative and those initiatives were already defined by the long struggle against Tsarism and the war. The fact is that these revolutionaries were already part of a living movement and did not just turn up at the last minute. Professor Smith confirms this. He tells us that metalworking factories of Vyborg were the “most strike-prone” section of the working class throughout the First World War. Here despite the repeated arrest of many Bolshevik activists and “in spite of an influx of new workers, a core of skilled, experienced workers remained intact. These workers were members or sympathisers of the Bolshevik Party.”[46]

In the balance between spontaneity and organisation Burdzhalov’s conclusion on February 1917 strikes the right note.

The workers who came out on to the streets of Petrograd on February 23 had a well-defined aim and previous revolutionary experience. They acted with a certain consistency. They quit work, assembled for political meetings, went out into the streets, “removed” workers from other enterprises, and after fusing with them in a general demonstration, went to the center of the town. Although they came out alone, the workers drew other elements of the toiling people, soldiers above all, into the struggle.

The workers’ movement took place under the influence of Bolshevik ideas. Although it had been prepared by the party’s entire previous activity, it immediately assumed such vast dimensions and aroused so many of the masses to struggle that it was impossible for them to guide the movement that had broken out; however, they tried to influence it as much as possible, to strengthen its organization, and to lead it in a more reliable manner towards the designated goal.”[47]

By the final days of February (in the old calendar) the problem facing the revolutionary working class was how to avoid their victory over Tsarism being turned into defeat by the combined forces of social democracy and the conservative forces of capitalism. We have already seen how the workers were vastly under-represented in their own soviet. The early domination of the Soviet by the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, who had looked on in horror at the battles in the streets, threatened to hand the revolution over to the propertied classes as represented by the Provisional Government. And just to underline how the real revolutionaries were sidelined by the machinations in the Tauride Palace, let’s remind ourselves that it was the one million strong contingent of working women of Petrograd whose initiative started the revolution. How many of them were delegates in the Soviet at the end of that tumultuous week? Sadly, none. In several senses the working class revolution had only just begun …


1 March 2017

The picture at the top of the article is from a defensist" demonstration before the February Revolution when "Down with the war" was not yet so common. It shows soldiers wives demonstrating for increased rations. Their banners read "An increased ration to the families of soldiers, the defenders of freedom and of people's peace" and "Feed the children of the defenders of the motherland".

[1] Collected Works Volume 31 (Moscow 1964) p 95.

[2] Russia’s Second Revolution, E.N Burdzhalov (English translation by Donald J Raleigh, Indiana University Press, 1986) p.106. This “may well be the best book in any language on Russia’s February Revolution of 1917 in Petrograd” (Donald J. Raleigh). Burdzhalov, like Anna M. Pankratova was a new breed of Soviet historians who after 1956 broke the mould of Soviet historiography by investigating all the “heroic” claims about the role of the Bolsheviks (and Stalin). He was sacked as editor of Voprosy Istorii (Problems of History) but never recanted and carried on working to give a more accurate picture of the revolution from below. He died from Parkinson’s in 1985. His story is told in the translator’s introduction. In using quotations I have retained Raleigh’s US spelling.

[3] Op.cit. p.105. The Okhrana were the Tsar’s secret police.

[4] Op. cit. p.113 This paragraph including the “stormy” description also comes from p.106

[5] Op.cit p.110

[6] Women’s Day started as an idea of the Socialist Party of America in 1908-9 to celebrate a women workers’ strike and became “International” after Luise Zeitz and Clara Zetkin proposed such a day at the 1911 second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. Russian women first celebrated it as a demonstration against war in 1913 (so the next year the Tsarist police arrested the organisers to prevent a repeat). It thus entered into the special days of celebration of the Russian working class like May Day and January 9 (anniversary of Bloody Sunday 1905).

[7] Quoted in Burdzhalov op. cit. p.106

[8] Alexander Shlyapnikov, On the Eve of 1917: _Reminiscences from the Revolutionary Underground_ (Allison and Busby, 1982) pp. 189-90. Lenin shared the views of the Kharkov comrades. On January 9 1917 he told a meeting of young workers in Zurich “We must not be deceived by the present grave-like stillness in Europe. Europe is pregnant with revolution. The monstrous horrors of the imperialist war, the suffering caused by the high cost of living everywhere engender a revolutionary mood; and the ruling classes, the bourgeoisie and its servitors, the governments, are more and more moving into a blind alley which they can never extricate themselves without tremendous upheavals”. This after he said “… the Russian revolution – precisely because of its proletarian character … – is the prologue to the coming European revolution” (“Lecture on the 1905 Revolution” in Collected Works Volume 23 (Moscow 1964) pp.252-3

[9] S.A. Smith Red Petrograd, (Cambridge 1983) p. 51

[10] Loc.cit.

[11] Op. cit. p. 52

[12] Maurice Paleologue An Ambassador’s Memoirs (1923)

[13] Burdzhalov op. cit. p.117

[14] Quoted in Burdzhalov p.120

[15] Op.cit. p. 123

[16] Op. cit. p.124

[17] Op. cit. p.131

[18] W.H Chamberlin, The Russian Revolution Volume One (New York 1965) p. 77. Chamberlin originally published what was regarded as a classic work in 1935. It is a tremendous achievement for its time and he clearly consulted many of the sources used by Burdzhalov. At the time critically sympathetic to the revolution he turned against it after Stalin’s forced collectivisation created famine in Ukraine. He had a low opinion of Khabalov’s abilities but this seems to be based on the evidence of other Tsarist officials after the event. It is typical of bourgeois historical method that individuals rather than material circumstances are seen as the prime movers in history. Khabalov may have been weak but his problem was that Tsarism was lost as soon as the Petrograd garrison went over to the working class. The suggestion by Balk (the Governor of Petrograd) that if Khabalov had started shooting workers on the Thursday or Friday rather than Sunday then the revolution would have been beaten down is wishful thinking. Once the shooting started the very weakness of the state was on the line – as events on the Sunday showed.

[19] Sukhanov The Russian Revolution 1917 – A Personal Record p. 25

[20] Loc. cit. “Pavlovsk” is given as “Pavlovsky” in other sources.

[21] The Duma or Parliament was conceded by Nicholas II to split the liberals from the workers and peasants in an effort to put an end to the 1905 Revolution. The first two Dumas lasted only months before the voting system was changed. Landowners got one third of the seats and the urban population also one third of the seats. Unsurprisingly there were few representatives of the workers (Bolsheviks and Mensheviks) in the Fourth Duma elected in 1912. The small Bolshevik faction had been arrested and deported to Siberia on account of the Party’s revolutionary defeatist position (which Kamenev, the Bolshevik Duma leader shamefully failed to defend at his trial) in 1915. Golitsyn, although only 67 years old, often fell asleep at Cabinet meetings due it is often written to his “advanced years”!

[22] Chamberlin op. cit p.78

[23] Loc.cit.

[24] L. Trotsky The History of the Russian Revolution (Pluto Press 1977) p.167

[25] Burdzhalov op. cit. p. 170

[26] Op.cit. p. 223

[27] 1315 people died in the February Revolution. 53 were officers, 602 soldiers, 73 police and 587 “citizens”. Chamberlin op. cit. p. 85

[28] Trotsky op.cit. p.179

[29] Burdzhalov op. cit p. 185

[30] Ferro op. cit. p.37

[31] In Leninism under Lenin, (Merlin, 1975) p. 117

[32] The words come from the first page of S.A. Smith’s Red Petrograd quoted earlier where he contrasts the bourgeois parts of the city with the “eery squalor” of the proletarian districts. His Chapter One provides as good a description of working and living conditions in Petrograd in 1917 to be found anywhere.

[33] “…welfare ratios for unskilled workers in Moscow and St.Petersburg were higher than in Milan. Italian cities had the lowest standard of living in Europe. (Allen).” From Pre-revolution living standards: Russia 1888-1917 Ekaterina Khaustova, Russian State Social University (Kursk, 2013).

[34] Sukhanov The Russian Revolution 1917 – A Personal Record p. 11 In Italy the Socialist Party’s position of “neither support nor sabotage” for the imperialist war (hoping, like Kautsky, that it would go away) was hardly as positive as Sukhanov makes out here.

[35] One of the leading industrialists who became a minister in the Provisional Government, Guchkov (leading member of the Octobrist Party) was still trying to save the monarchy 3 days after the Provisional Government had been formed! He had plotted earlier to overthrow Nicholas II but only to replace him with his son under the regency of his brother Michael. The other industrialists followed Guchkov though when he finally threw in his lot with the revolution. They all now suddenly found a taste for constitutional government.

[36] Shlyapnikov op. cit. p.4

[37] This and preceding quotes from loc.cit. p.3

[38] S.A. Smith op. cit. p. 38

[39] S.A. Smith op. cit. pp. 40-1

[40] S.A. Smith op. cit. p. 50 (Table 10). The “political” and “economic” distinction was one made by the police.

[41] Op.cit. p. 55

[42] Burdzhalov op. cit. p. 138

[43] Trotsky op. cit. p. 169

[44] Collected Works Volume 29 (Moscow 1964) p. 396

[45] Quoted in Burdzhalov op. cit. p. 105. He got it from Shlyapnikov’s memoir. The leaflet is very close to one Bolshevik women students issued the year before. The Interdistrict Women’s circle was headed by Anna Itkina who with the rest of the group joined the Bolsheviks in 1917. See R. Stites The Women's Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism 1860-1930 (Princeton,1990) p. 386

[46] S.A. Smith op. cit. p. 52

[47] Burdzhalov op. cit. p. 119

Thursday, March 2, 2017


Thank you, Jock, for such an informative article. Such deep knowledge of events in their context provides much food for thought. In today's world context, I offer what is only science fiction, but hope that it might be useful for the world somehow. Imperialism, with all its wars and infliction of poverty etc has been said to be its own grave digger, but it occurs to me that that might be made to happen in maybe an unexpected way. Whereas imperialism as so far known has wars between separate states under capitalism, to secure raw materials and markets, and arms sales, if all present national states could be declared to be all contained within one single world nation, with its headquarters in the Proletarium, then separate national and separate corporate interests could be eliminated. A world currency, the Prolar, would replace all existing currencies. Immediately communist left can be expected to argue that money should be abolished altogether, and of course its existing function of generating surplus value for the benefit of capital would need to be, have been, superceded by the world peoples proletarian interests, using money not just as a convenient way of evaluating such things as materials and time spent on production, but of amassing quantities of money for public works and welfate and so on. Also, whereas without money a plumber might not be too keen to get up in the middle of the night to go to tackle an emergency if he knows he won''t get paid, all necessary work must have a guaranteed cash value. People are used to money or lack of it, under present day exploitation, but with a one-world unified basis it could be useful for all. This is still thought to be the 'great American century', so, paradoxically, the centre of the new world peoples state could be based in America, because that is where there is the most advanced and extensive amount of weaponry, which in the early days of this world anti-nationalist revolution, would be need to assert the dominance of the popular world peoples corporate state. Not Europe a Nation anymore, but one world one nation, world peace and plenty. The family of man keeps growing, said the demo song, but families can't be ruled by children, although they should work for children's benefit. Recognition of competence is essential, to make it work, aided by advamced technology and the full co-operation of workers everywhere. It will be either that or nuclear war, if separate nations persist as at present in robbing and endangering us.