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Russian Revolution: A huge leap into the unknown


Russian Revolution: A huge leap into the unknown

A worker Sweeping Criminals out of the Soviet Land from Russian Placards 1917-22

In the first of a series of articles to mark the centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, Corinna Lotz talks to British Library curator, Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia

One hundred years ago this month, stormy demonstrations of workers and soldiers broke out in Petrograd, today’s St Petersburg, then the capital of Russia. Their target was the Provisional Government which was led by Alexander Kerensky.

A new military offensive launched against Germany in June 1917 had proved disastrous. Russia’s economy was collapsing, people in the cities were under-nourished and even starving. The army was disintegrating and there were mutinies across the front.

The authorities brutally repressed the protesters, killing over 400 workers and soldiers. Members of the anti-war Bolshevik party, which had tried to keep the demonstration peaceful, were hunted down and arrested. Their leader Vladimir Lenin was forced into hiding.

The July Days of 1917, as they became known, took place exactly half way between two revolutions – that in February, which toppled the Tsar’s autocracy, and the second one, the October revolution, which established Soviet power and the overthrow of capitalism. Between July and November power hovered between the Provisional Government on the one side and the soviets on the other.

A new form of democratic organisation, the soviet (Russian word for council), began to shape history. Amongst the many that sprang up, the Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Soldiers’ Deputies was the most powerful and decisive. Its 2,500 delegates came from factories and military units around the city.

Rheta Childe Dorr, an American woman who lived through these events, and who was unsympathetic to the revolution, wrote:

“The soviets, or councils of soldiers’ and workmen’s delegates, which have spread like wildfire throughout the country, are the nearest thing to a government that Russia has known since the very early days of the revolution … Petrograd is not the only city where the Council of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Delegates has assumed control of the destinies of the Russian people. Every town has its council, and there is no question, civil or military, which they do not feel capable of settling.”

In March 1917 the Petrograd Soviet appealed to the peoples of the world, especially fellow workers in the Austrian and German armies, to bring about peace. A month later, Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders returned from exile. The Bolshevik leader put forward the now famous slogan “All power to the Soviets”, advocating soviets as the “highest form of democracy”.

In September the Petrograd Soviet called for the end of dual power and the formation of a government of soviets. On November 7 the Bolsheviks led the seizure of state power in the world’s first socialist revolution. The next day, decrees were issued on land, nationalisation, peace, the eight-hour working day and a minimum wage. The death penalty was re-abolished. On 15 December an armistice was signed with the Central Powers, thus taking Russia out of World War I.
The Russian revolution continues to raise hotly contested questions

● What is the nature of democracy and power?
● What should the relationship be between state and people?
● What kind of state, if any, is needed for a true democracy?
● What are the reasons for imperialist war, wars of conquest and military intervention?
● Should there be a right to self-determination?
● What is revolution?
● Can capitalism be superseded?
● Is there a choice between revolution or reform – and what is the relation between them?
● What is the relationship between leaders, parties and the wider masses?
● What is the role of theory and philosophy in revolutionary change?
● Why did Stalinism arise and why the Soviet Union collapse?
● What impact did the revolution have on other countries?

Russian Revolution: A huge leap into the unknown

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About Obi_Live

Occupier at OccupyLSX Camp. Then an Occupy Nomad. The revolution will be Livestreamed.

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