Russian political events after Feb 1917?
I am about 140 pages into Trotsky’s historical past of the Russian Revolution, and I discover it very complicated to determine precisely who the large gamers are. Partially as a result of the names are so comparable: government committee, provisional authorities, fourth Duma, and many others…
I get the broad brushstrokes: politicians like Kerensky, Chkheidze and Rodzianko find yourself in senior positions inside numerous organisations, regardless of having both tsarist or very bourgeois sympathies.
however I get tousled within the distinction between the ‘Government Committee of the Petrograd Soviet’, the ‘provisional authorities’, the ‘fourth Duma’ and so forth. It looks like a complete clusterfuck of confusion.
If anybody needs to aim a easy breakdown of who’s on what aspect after February 27, 1917, I might enormously admire it.
Comments ( 8 )
It is a giant mess, but I can recomend that you hear Mike Duncans podcast.
Ooh this was my most recent special interest! My source is the podcast Revolutions by Mike Duncan which I highly recommend if you like hyper detailed history. But here’s my summary:
1) at the end of the 1800s there are a bunch of leftist groups fighting the Tsarist government. They broadly fall into 3 groups: the SRs (short for socialist revolutionaries), who want an agricultural, decentralized form of socialism; the Marxists, who want an industrial, authoritarian form of socialism; and the liberals, who want a western style democracy or constitutional monarchy.
2) the Marxists split into 2 political parties: the bolsheviks, run by Vladimir Lenin, who want a very orthodox form of Marxism, and the Mensheviks, led by Julius Martov, who want a more lenient, broad umbrella of Marxism. Trotsky begins as a Menshevik, then becomes a Bolshevik.
3) in 1905, a half-revolution forces the Tsar to accept a parliament, called the Duma. This Duma becomes dominated by liberals, who form a party called the Cadets. In 1906, however, the Tsar makes some laws that basically make the Duma mostly powerless and advisory. In this Duma, Alexander Karensky becomes the leading figure of liberals and moderate leftists. There is also a moderate party called the Octoberists who think the 1905 revolution was the only necessary revolution, and there are absolutist conservatives as well who don’t really have a named party.
4) in February 1917, a mostly leaderless mass movement overthrows the Tsar. Because it’s leaderless, there is no plan for what comes next. The liberals go to the Duma and say “ok now the Tsar is gone you’re in charge”. The leaders of the Duma declare themselves to be the Provisional Government which will rule til they can organize elections to a committee to create a constitution. After some shuffling and chaos, Karensky comes to lead the provisional government.
5) meanwhile, leftist go to working class neighborhoods, factories, and military barracks and say “now that the Tsar is gone we’re all in charge. Elect representatives to go to a council of factory workers and soldiers which will be the new government”. That council is called the Soviet, and neither the Soviet nor the Provisional Government want civil war so they agree to a vague undefined power sharing agreement til the constitution can be written and a final government made. at the top of the Soviet, which is a gigantic body of hundreds of representatives, is the Executive Committee of the Soviet, which is small enough to actually make decisions.
6) SRs, Mensheviks, and cadets join the provisional government. SRs and Mensheviks also join the Soviet. The Bolsheviks only join the Soviet and say the provisional government is illegitimate.
And that’s February 1917. There will be more complications as you go but that’s an oversimplified summary. Hope this helps, happy to answer follow up questions!
Basically, what happened after the February uprising in Petrograd was that Nicholas II and all of his potential heirs have been removed from power (or removed themselves, if you like). This left the Duma, the elected lower house of Russian parliament, as the sole legal authority. The executive, which, under the old regime, was appointed at the Emperor’s discretion, and derived their authority from the Emperor’s autocratic power, effectively lost all legitimacy. So the Duma appointed a provisional government from among its own members.
Under the 1907 electoral laws, the Duma was formed by indirect elections; seats were allocated according to complicated quotas which favoured relatively wealthy landowners and the richer strata of urban population (merchants, civil servants, businessmen, the upper professional class). The voice of a privileged voter was about 50 times heavier than the voice of a working-class voter, and about 125 times heavier than the voice of a rural commoner. As a result, the parties which represented the privileged voters had a disproportionately high representation. Essentially, the fourth Duma (elected in 1912) was divided between:
* The “right”, which were mostly conservative monarchists and Russian nationalists. They didn’t have organized parliamentary parties and previously generally supported the Tsarist government agenda. After February 1917, they were sidelined.
* Centrists and liberals, mostly representing reform-minded privileged voters: their chief parties were the Constitutional Democrats (“kadets”), the more conservative Union of 17th October (“octobrists”), and the Progressives. The rather loose and ideologically diverse Centre Group can also be counted in this category. Generally, they wanted to reform the country as a constitutional monarchy along British lines.
* Socialists, which were divided in two doctrinal branches: *narodniki* and marxists. Their parliamentary parties were, respectively, the the Labour Group (“trudoviki”) and the S.-D. Workers’ Party (consisting of Bolshevik and Menshevik factions). The Socialist-Revolutionary party (“esers”, radical *narodniki*), which enjoyed very considerable support among rural commoners, boycotted the 1912 elections, but, after the February revolution, a section of the Labour deputies reconstituted themselves as the S.-R. group. Socialists favoured a republican government with a greater political role for their constituents.
* Representatives of ethnic/religious minorities, mostly Poles and Moslems. Let’s leave them aside for now.
The first Provisional government reflected this setup: it counted 5 kadets (including the chairman, Prince Lvov), 2 octobrists, a progressive, a member of the Centre Group, an independent liberal, and a labourist who then walked over to S.-R. (this was none other than Kerensky). Rodzianko, the chairman of the Duma, was also a kadet.
The Duma had to contend for power with the Petrograd Soviet (Council of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies). Unlike the former, whose legitimacy was based on their authority continuing from the Tsarist system, the latter enjoyed a wider support among the urban workers and military units quartered in Petrograd. These formed a more numerous class than the constituents of Duma parties, and, more importantly, they were an armed force. The Petrograd Soviet was at least nominally an elected assembly (one delegate for each thousand of workers or an army company), although the elections were probably not conducted in an orderly way. The original Executive committee was a self-appointed provisional group which grew out of a previous clandestine circle that coordinated labour protest (strikes etc.); it called the elections of the Soviet, and then handed over its leadership to a permanent Executive committee elected by the Soviet. The Executive committee was initially dominated by mensheviks, but also included some bolsheviks and esers. Several of its leaders, in particular Kerensky and Chkheidze, were also Duma members. Kerensky was both a minister of the Provisional government and the deputy chairman of the Executive committee. Councils similar to the Petrograd Soviet were subsequently formed all over Russia, a congress of their representatives was convened in June, and elected an All-Russia Executive Committee. Again, this was a body dominated by mensheviks and esers, with Chkheidze as chairman.
Given their lack of popularity among the wider populace and faced with rampant political unrest, the leaders of Duma liberals thought it wise to make a power-sharing agreement with the left, so the Provisional government was reconstituted in April 1917 as a broader coalition government which included two esers, two mensheviks and a labourist. However, during the spring and summer, the mass movement fell under an increased influence of bolsheviks (who campaigned for a government formed exclusively by Soviets — which they were gradually taking over) and anarchists (who were against any government). The street violence which they fomented, along with the beginning disintegration of the empire, disrupted the power balance and caused the Provisional government to be again reshuffled. This time it included 4 kadets, 2 radical democrats (a splinter group of the Progressives), 2 independent liberals, 5 esers, and 2 mensheviks. Kerensky became the chairman of the government. Subsequent events are largely explained by his political scheming and quest for absolute power, on one hand, and the bolshevization of the Soviets, on the other.
If only Kerensky pulled Russia out of WW1 before the Bolsheviks seized power. What might have happened
Season 10 of Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast is all about the Russian Revolution. It’s still confusing, but he does a great job.
Karl Marx was baptized a Lutheran as a kid and he and Engels both were inspired by German peasants revolt in 1500s which German workers serfs went against the Church and Noblemen .
I found Anthony Beevors book “Russia :Revolution and Civil War, 1917-1921 ” an excellent resource for this whole period.
Duma was Russian parliament and as such was official institution of the state. It predated revolution. It was controlled by political parties. At first by liberals that overthrew czar and then socialists.
Provisional government was the government of the Russian republic (established after first revolution that overthrew czar Nicolas II) and was subordinated to the Duma.
Soviets (literally councils in English) were effectively parallel parliament/government established by the people (mostly workers) during revolution and rival power of the Duma and the provisional government. They were organized locally (for example in factories) and then deputies would be send to the higher level Soviet (for example city). The most important Soviet during and after revolution was Leningrad Soviet, which served as an unofficial top Soviet. Bolsheviks gaining majority in the Soviets made them major power that could eventually defeat their opponents and gain control over country.
In the competition between Soviets and Duma/provisional government, Soviets eventually emerged victorious, mostly because they were able to control soldiers, railway, telegraph and factory workers. Basically they could control revolutionary masses while Duma and government could not.
As for actual political parties, there were liberals that actually organized coup that overthrew czar and started the first revolution (February Revolution). Two main liberal parties were Union of October 17 – otherwise known as Okrobtrists party and Constitutional Democratic Party otherwise known as Kadets. They organized anti government coup and forced czar Nicolas II to abdicate. Their idea was for Nicolas II to pass rule to his small son that would serve as a weak ruler of the constitutional monarchy similar to Great Britain. But Nicolas II refused and passed crown on to his brother grand duke Michael. However when liberals came to Michael, he told them that he will accept only if they can guarantee him safety, which they could not as coup got out of their hands and turned in to revolution with liberals having no control over masses on the streets and army.
Liberals were then forced to declare republic and created provisional government (until general elections), but were replaced in the Duma and the provisional government by Socialists who had majority in Soviets. Head of the provisional government became socialist Kerensky (hence “Kerensky government”).
Main Socialist parties were Mensheviks, Socialists Revolutionary party called also Esers (basically socialist party that oriented itself on peasants rather then workers and performed political terror -political assassinations). Esers later split in to Left and Right Esers, former allied with Bolsheviks while later allied to other Socialists and liberals. Socialists were first to gain majority support in Soviets so they pushed liberals out of Duma and provisional government.
Then there were Bolsheviks, who before revolution split from socialist party of Mensheviks. They were more radical socialists. They were at first minor party that did not play any role in the revolution, but after Socialists took over Duma and provisional government, they begun gaining support in Soviets and eventually overthrew Kerensky, Socialists and their Duma and provisional government in the second revolution (October Revolution).
There were also various royalist parties and anarchists, plus parties of ethnic minorities (mostly of socialist kind) -for example Jewish socialists, but those did not play larger role.
During Kerensky/Socialist rule, there was failed attempt at counterrevolution organized by part of the army (mostly officers) and some political parties (originally Kerensky himself agreed to join but then he changed his mind fearing that he would be betrayed). Military force was send to take over Leningrad under general Kornilov and to disperse Soviets. Attempt failed as Kerensky flipped sides and most of the soldiers in Kerensky force refused to carry orders.
After Bolsheviks took power in October Revolution, general elections were held but as results were not flavoring Bolsheviks, Bolsheviks and Left Esers boycotted them which resulted in failed elections. After that civil war effectively started between Bolsheviks, Left Esers and few minor parties on one side and everybody else on the other.
At the beginning of the civil war Left Esers attempted coup against Bolsheviks, because they disagreed with their policy of making peace with Germany. Coup failed and Left Esers were purged.
Bolsheviks emerged victorious from the civil war and political struggle and united all political leftovers in to new Communist party.
[Edit:] One more important thing to understand is what made Bolsheviks and Left Esers disagree with other Socialists in Russia:
According to Marxist theory, development of human society comes in socio-economic stages:
Tribal society -> Slavery -> Feudalism -> Capitalism -> Socialism -> Communism
Russia at the beginning of the 20st ct. was in many ways still feudal society that just begun to adopt capitalism.
Most Russian socialists therefore believed, that Russia first have to became capitalists, before becoming socialist and then communist. And so socialists wanted to establish capitalist republic after revolution. Meanwhile Bolsheviks believed that it is possible for Russia to skip capitalism and go strait to socialism and wanted to establish socialist republic. That was the main point of disagreement.