5. THE FEBRUARY REVOLUTION. FALL OF TSARDOM.
FORMATION OF SOVIETS OF WORKERS' AND SOLDIERS' DEPUTIES.
FORMATION OF THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT. DUAL POWER
The year 1917 was inaugurated by the strike of January 9.
In the course of this strike demonstrations were held in
Petrograd, Moscow, Baku and Nizhni-Novgorod. In Moscow about
one-third of the workers took part in the strike of January 9. A
demonstration of two thousand persons on Tverskoi Boulevard was
dispersed by mounted police. A demonstration on the Vyborg
Chaussée in Petrograd was joined by soldiers.
"The idea of a general strike," the Petrograd police
reported, "is daily gaining new followers and is becoming as
popular as it was in 1905."
The Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries tried to
direct this incipient revolutionary movement into the channels
the liberal bourgeoisie needed. The Mensheviks proposed that a
procession of workers to the State Duma be organized on February
14, the day of its opening. But the working-class masses
followed the Bolsheviks, and went, not to the Duma, but to a
On February 18, 1917, a strike broke out at the Putilov
Works in Petrograd. On February 22 the workers of most of the
big factories were on strike. On International Women's Day,
February 23 (March 8), at the call of the Petrograd Bolshevik
Committee, working women came out in the streets to demonstrate
against starvation, war and tsardom. The Petrograd workers
supported the demonstration of the working women by a city-wide
strike movement. The political strike began to grow into a
general political demonstration against the tsarist system.
On February 24 (March 9) the demonstration was resumed
with even greater vigour. About 200,000 workers were already on
On February 25 (March 10) the whole of working-class
Petrograd had joined the revolutionary movement. The political
strikes in the districts merged into a general political strike
of the whole city. Demonstrations and clashes with the police
took place everywhere. Over the masses of workers floated red
banners bearing the slogans: "Down with the tsar!" "Down with
the war!" "We want bread!"
On the morning of February 26 (March 11) the political
strike and demonstration began to assume the character of an
uprising. The workers disarmed police and gendarmes and armed
themselves. Nevertheless, the clashes with the police ended with
the shooting down of a demonstration on Znamenskaya Square.
General Khabalov, Commander of the Petrograd Military
Area, announced that the workers must return to work by February
28 (March 13), otherwise they would be sent to the front. On
February 25 (March 10) the tsar gave orders to General Khabalov:
"I command you to put a stop to the disorders in the capital not
later than tomorrow."
But "to put a stop" to the revolution was no longer
On February 26 (March 11) the 4th Company of the Reserve
Battalion of the Pavlovsky Regiment opened fire, not on the
workers, however, but on squads of mounted police who were
engaged in a skirmish with the workers. A most energetic and
persistent drive was made to win over the troops, especially by
the working women, who addressed themselves directly to the
soldiers, fraternized with them and called upon them to help the
people to overthrow the hated tsarist autocracy.
The practical work of the Bolshevik Party at that time
was directed by the Bureau of the Central Committee of our Party
which had its quarters in Petrograd and was headed by Comrade
Molotov. On February 26 (March 11) the Bureau of the Central
Committee issued a manifesto calling for the continuation of the
armed struggle against tsardom and the formation of a
Provisional Revolutionary Government.
On February 27 (March 12) the troops in Petrograd refused
to fire on the workers and began to line up with the people in
revolt. The number of soldiers who had joined the revolt by the
morning of February 27 was still no more than 10,000, but by the
evening it already exceeded 60,000.
The workers and soldiers who had risen in revolt began to
arrest tsarist ministers and generals and to free
revolutionaries from jail. The released political prisoners
joined the revolutionary struggle.
In the streets, shots were still being exchanged with
police and gendarmes posted with machine guns in the attics of
houses. But the troops rapidly went over to the side of the
workers, and this decided the fate of the tsarist autocracy.
When the news of the victory of the revolution in
Petrograd spread to other towns and to the front, the workers
and soldiers everywhere began to depose the tsarist officials.
The February bourgeois-democratic revolution had won.
The revolution was victorious because its vanguard was
the working class which headed the movement of millions of
peasants clad in soldiers' uniform demanding "peace, bread and
liberty." It was the hegemony of the proletariat that determined
the success of the revolution.
"The revolution was made by the proletariat. The
proletariat displayed heroism; it shed its blood; it swept along
with it the broadest masses of the toiling and poor population,"
wrote Lenin in the early days of the revolution. (Lenin,
Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. XX, pp. 23-4.)
The First Revolution, that of 1905, had prepared the way
for the swift success of the Second Revolution, that of 1917.
"Without the tremendous class battles," Lenin wrote, "and
the revolutionary energy displayed by the Russian proletariat
during the three years, 1905-07, the second revolution could not
possibly have been so rapid in the sense that its initial
stage was completed in a few days." (Lenin, Selected Works,
Vol. VI, pp. 3-4.)
Soviets arose in the very first days of the revolution.
The victorious revolution rested on the support of the Soviets
of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. The workers and soldiers who
rose in revolt created Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers'
Deputies. The Revolution of 1905 had shown that the Soviets were
organs of armed uprising and at the same time the embryo of a
new, revolutionary power. The idea of Soviets lived in the minds
of the working-class masses, and they put it into effect as soon
as tsardom was overthrown, with this difference, however, that
in 1905 it was Soviets only of Workers' Deputies that
were formed, whereas in February 1917, on the initiative of the
Bolsheviks, there arose Soviets of Workers' and
While the Bolsheviks were directly leading the struggle
of the masses in the streets, the compromising parties, the
Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, were seizing the seats
in the Soviets, and building up a majority there. This was
partly facilitated by the fact that the majority of the leaders
of the Bolshevik Party were in prison or exile (Lenin was in
exile abroad and Stalin and Sverdlov in banishment in Siberia)
while the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries were freely
promenading the streets of Petrograd. The result was that the
Petrograd Soviet and its Executive Committee were headed by
representatives of the compromising parties: Mensheviks and
Socialist-Revolutionaries. This was also the case in Moscow and
a number of other cities. Only in Ivanovo-Voznesensk,
Krasnoyarsk and a few other places did the Bolsheviks have a
majority in the Soviets from the very outset.
The armed people -- the workers and soldiers -- sent
their representatives to the Soviet as to an organ of power of
the people. They thought and believed that the Soviet of
Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies would carry out all the demands
of the revolutionary people, and that, in the first place, peace
would be concluded.
But the unwarranted trustfulness of the workers and
soldiers served them in evil stead. The
Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks had not the slightest
intention of terminating the war, of securing peace. They
planned to take advantage of the revolution to continue the war.
As to the revolution and the revolutionary demands of the
people, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks
considered that the revolution was already over, and that the
task now was to seal it and to pass to a "normal" constitutional
existence side by side with the bourgeoisie. The
Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik leaders of the Petrograd
Soviet therefore did their utmost to shelve the question of
terminating the war, to shelve the question of peace, and to
hand over the power to the bourgeoisie.
On February 27 (March 12), 1917, the liberal members of
the Fourth State Duma, as the result of a backstairs agreement
with the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik leaders, set up a
Provisional Committee of the State Duma, headed by Rodzyanko,
the President of the Duma, a landlord and a monarchist. And a
few days later, the Provisional Committee of the State Duma and
the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik leaders of the
Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers'
Deputies, acting secretly from the Bolsheviks, came to an
agreement to form a new government of Russia -- a bourgeois
Provisional Government, headed by Prince Lvov, the man whom,
prior to the February Revolution, even Tsar Nicholas II was
about to make the Prime Minister of his government. The
Provisional Government included Milyukov, the head of the
Constitutional-Democrats, Guchkov, the head of the Octobrists,
and other prominent representatives of the capitalist class,
and, as the representative of the "democracy," the
And so it was that the Socialist-Revolutionary and
Menshevik leaders of the Executive Committee of the Soviet
surrendered the power to the bourgeoisie. Yet when the Soviet of
Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies learned of this, its majority
formally approved of the action of the Socialist-Revolutionary
and Menshevik leaders, despite the protest of the Bolsheviks.
Thus a new state power arose in Russia, consisting, as
Lenin said, of representatives of the "bourgeoisie and landlords
who had become bourgeois."
But alongside of the bourgeois government there existed
another power -- the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.
The soldier deputies on the Soviet were mostly peasants who had
been mobilized for the war. The Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers'
Deputies was an organ of the alliance of workers and peasants
against the tsarist regime, and at the same time it was an organ
of their power, an organ of the dictatorship of the working
class and the peasantry.
The result was a peculiar interlocking of two powers, of
two dictatorships: the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,
represented by the Provisional Government, and the dictatorship
of the proletariat and peasantry, represented by the Soviet of
Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.
The result was a dual power.
How is it to be explained that the majority in the
Soviets at first consisted of Mensheviks and
How is it to be explained that the victorious workers and
peasants voluntarily surrendered the power to the
representatives of the bourgeoisie?
Lenin explained it by pointing out that millions of
people, inexperienced in politics, had awakened and pressed
forward to political activity. These were for the most part
small owners, peasants, workers who had recently been peasants,
people who stood midway between the bourgeoisie and the
proletariat. Russia was at that time the most petty bourgeois of
all the big European countries. And in this country, "a gigantic
petty-bourgeois wave has swept over everything and overwhelmed
the class-conscious proletariat, not only by force of numbers
but also ideologically; that is, it has infected and imbued very
wide circles of workers with the petty-bourgeois political
outlook." (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. VI, p. 49.)
It was this elemental petty-bourgeois wave that swept the
petty bourgeois Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary parties to
Lenin pointed out that another reason was the change in
the composition of the proletariat that had taken place during
the war and the inadequate class-consciousness and organization
of the proletariat at the beginning of the revolution. During
the war big changes had taken place in the proletariat itself.
About 40 per cent of the regular workers had been drafted into
the army. Many small owners, artisans and shop-keepers, to whom
the proletarian psychology was alien, had gone to the factories
in order to evade mobilization.
It was these petty-bourgeois sections of the workers that
formed the soil which nourished the petty-bourgeois politicians
-- the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries.
That is why large numbers of the people, inexperienced in
politics, swept into the elemental petty-bourgeois vortex, and
intoxicated with the first successes of the revolution, found
themselves in its early months under the sway of the
compromising parties and consented to surrender the state power
to the bourgeoisie in the naive belief that a bourgeois power
would not hinder the Soviets in their work.
The task that confronted the Bolshevik Party was, by
patient work of explanation, to open the eyes of the masses to
the imperialist character of the Provisional Government, to
expose the treachery of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and
Mensheviks and to show that peace could not be secured unless
the Provisional Government were replaced by a government of
And to this work the Bolshevik Party addressed itself
with the utmost energy.
It resumed the publication of its legal periodicals. The
newspaper Pravda appeared in Petrograd five days after
the February Revolution, and the Sotsial-Demokrat in
Moscow a few days later. The Party was assuming leadership of
the masses, who were losing their confidence in the liberal
bourgeoisie and in the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries.
It patiently explained to the soldiers and peasants the
necessity of acting jointly with the working class. It explained
to them that the peasants would secure neither peace nor land
unless the revolution were further developed and the bourgeois
Provisional Government replaced by a government of Soviets.
B R I E F S U M M A R Y
The imperialist war arose owing to the uneven development
of the capitalist countries, to the upsetting of equilibrium
between the principal powers, to the imperialists' need for a
redivision of the world by means of war and for the creation of
a new equilibrium.
The war would not have been so destructive, and perhaps
would not even have assumed such dimensions, if the parties of
the Second International had not betrayed the cause of the
working class, if they had not violated the anti-war decisions
of the congresses of the Second International, if they had dared
to act and to rouse the working class against their imperialist
governments, against the warmongers.
The Bolshevik Party was the only proletarian party which
remained faithful to the cause of Socialism and internationalism
and which organized civil war against its own imperialist
government. All the other parties of the Second International,
being tied to the bourgeoisie through their leaders, found
themselves under the sway of imperialism and deserted to the
side of the imperialists.
The war, while it was a reflection of the general crisis
of capitalism, at the same time aggravated this crisis and
weakened world capitalism. The workers of Russia and the
Bolshevik Party were the first in the world successfully to take
advantage of the weakness of capitalism. They forced a breach in
the imperialist front, overthrew the tsar and set up Soviets of
Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.
Intoxicated by the first successes of the revolution, and
lulled by the assurances of the Mensheviks and
Socialist-Revolutionaries that from now on everything would go
well, the bulk of the petty-bourgeoisie, the soldiers, as well
as the workers, placed their confidence in the Provisional
Government and supported it.
The Bolshevik Party was confronted with the task of
explaining to the masses of workers and soldiers, who had been
intoxicated by the first successes, that the complete victory of
the revolution was still a long way off, that as long as the
power was in the hands of the bourgeois Provisional Government,
and as long as the Soviets were dominated by the compromisers --
the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries -- the people would
secure neither peace, nor land, nor bread, and that in order to
achieve complete victory, one more step had to be taken and the
power transferred to the Soviets.