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First All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers 'and Soldiers' Deputies, June 16 – July 7, 1917
First All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers 'and Soldiers' opened on June 3, 1917 and was attended by some 1,090 delegates (784 with full vote) from 53 regional/provincial soviets (106 deputies), 305 local soviets (610 deputies), and 34 military organisations (68 delegates).
285 Socialist-Revolutionary (20 sympathetic to this party), 248 Mensheviks (8 sympathetic), 105 Bolsheviks, 111 Various other small parties (presumably 7 delegates did not answer)
The Congress debated and voted on political, social, and economic policies that would shape revolutionary Russia. The majority of these debates focused on the Soviet relations with the Provisional Government and Russia’s participation in the World War. The decisions of the Congress also Motivated the worker and soldier demonstration of June18th, which explicitly indicated the public frustration with the Provisional Government and would prove to be an important event for the Bolshevik party. The First Congress was important to the revolution because it provided legitimacy to the socialist movement and provided an arena of debate between the Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, and Bolsheviks.
Lenin made his speech “On the Attitude Towards the Provisional Government”, June 4, “On the War”, June 9.
The first main issue of the Congress was whether or not to continue support of the Provisional Government. The debate of this issue reflected in the speeches of leading Menshevik and Provisional Government Minister of Post and Telegraphs, I. Tsereteli, leading Bolshevik, Vladimir Lenin, and congress member and Provisional Government Minister of War, Alexander Kerensky.
Tsereteli emphasized the importance of creating and maintaining a central body capable of regulating the internal economy and organizing the country to concentrate resources to win the war. He said that there was no party ready to seize power. Lenin referring to the Bolsheviks shouted from the audience “It does exist!”. Tsereteli concluded that it is time for the country to stand strong, support the Provisional Government and “put an end to experiments dangerous for the fate of the revolution… that may lead to civil war.”
Lenin then asserted that continuation of the Dual Power would only create more issues than it would solve:
“The Soviets are an institution which does not exist in any ordinary bourgeois-‐parliamentary state and cannot exist side by side with a bourgeois government. They are the new, more democratic type of state which we in our Party resolutions call a peasant-‐proletarian democratic republic, with power belonging solely to the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. People are wrong in thinking that this is a theoretical issue. They are wrong in pretending that it can be evaded and in protesting that at present certain institutions exist side by side with the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. Yes, they do exist side by side. But this is what breeds countless misunderstandings, conflicts and friction.”
Kerensky warned the Bolsheviks that their desire to resolve “economic problems purely by political means” would result in the “victory of force over democracy…. You Bolsheviks recommend childish prescriptions – ‘arrest, kill, destroy.’ What are you – socialists or the police of the old regime? (Uproar. Lenin: ‘You should call him order’) … You [Bolsheviks] recommend that we follow the road of the French Revolution of 1792. You recommend the way of further disorganization of the country… When you in alliance with reaction, shall destroy our power, then you will have a real dictator. It is our duty, the duty of the Russian democracy to say: Don’t repeat the historic mistakes. You are asked to follow the road that was once followed by France, and that will lead Russia to a new reaction, to a new shedding of democratic blood..”
The Congress ultimately voted to support the Provisional Government with 543 to 126 (52 abstentions).
The second main issue was the war. Russia was engaged in the world war, under constant attacks on the Western front by German forces. The Provisional Government, Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks were for the continuation of the war, while Bolsheviks and other Left-‐wing parties were for the stopping of the “Imperialistic war” and leaving the Entente. The Congress sided with the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, and opted to continue fighting.
Bolsheviks proceeded to secretly plan a massive demonstration for June 10th in order to pressure Soviet leaders into protesting against the Congress’s support of the Provisional Government. However, the secret plan was leaked to non-Bolshevik leaders of the Congress who on June 9th called for an immediate ban on political demonstrations for the next three days, claiming that any political demonstrations would disrupt the proceedings of the Congress. The Bolsheviks submitted to the ban, cancelling the demonstration. Lenin said that the reason why the demonstration could be canceled at such short notice was to be attributed to the loyalty of the demonstrators, comprised of workers and soldiers, to the Bolsheviks.
The Bolsheviks failed in the Congress, but on the streets, the demonstrations of June 18th showed that the workers stood behind Bolsheviks.