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1917: The View from the Streets #7 - ‘Soldiers, take power into your own hands!’
March 14, 2017 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal / John Riddell's Marxist Essays and Commentary website —100 years ago today, on March 14 (1), 1917, the Social Democratic Interdistrict Committee (Mezhrayonka), supported by the Petersburg Committee of Socialist-Revolutionaries, issued the following appeal to soldiers.
At that time, the Duma Committee and the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies were striving to bring order into the revolutionary events on the streets and to prevent the tsarist autocracy from restoring its control over the city. Dominated by moderate socialists, the Soviet pursued a policy of cooperation with liberals in the Duma.
The appeal below presented a militant alternative to the Duma Committee’s course. According to Michael Melancon (2009), it circulated on March 14 (1), 1917, probably before Order No. 1 was issued, and may have influenced the wording of Order No. 1. Alexander Shlyapnikov, who published the leaflet in 1923, states that the Executive Committee of the Petersburg Soviet confiscated it on the morning of March 15 (2), 1917.
Selection, translation, and annotation by Barbara Allen.
It has come to pass! You enslaved peasants and workers arose, and with a crash the autocratic government collapsed in disgrace.
Soldiers! The people were patient for a long time. The peasants long suffered under the power of the gentry landowners, the land captains, the district police officers, and the whole gang of servants of the tsarist autocracy. Millions of peasants became swollen from hunger while the State Treasury, the monasteries, and the landowners seized all the land, and while the nobles got fat from sucking the people’s blood. Without land, the peasant cannot even put his chickens out to feed!
As peasants, as workers, what do you need? All the land and full freedom – that is what you need! You did not shed your blood in vain. For two days Petrograd has been under the power of soldiers and workers. It has been two days since the dissolved State Duma elected a Provisional Committee, which it calls a Provisional Government. Still, you have not heard a word from [M.V.] Rodzianko [Duma chair] or [P.N.] Miliukov [Kadet Party leader and Provisional Committee spokesman] about whether the land will be taken from the gentry landowners and given to the people. The prospects are poor!
Soldiers! Be on your guard to prevent the nobles from deceiving the people!
Go ask the Duma, will the people will have land, freedom, and peace?
Soldiers! Why does the Duma say nothing about this? Autocratic arbitrariness needs to be completely uprooted. The people’s cause will perish unless we conclude the business by convening the Constituent Assembly, to which all peasants and all workers would send their deputies – not like in the current Duma, composed of the wealthy and highest ranks of society, which dooms the people’s cause!
Take power into your hands, so that this Romanov gang of nobles and officers does not deceive you. Elect your own platoon, company, and regiment commanders. Elect company committees for managing food supplies. All officers should be under the supervision of these company committees.
Accept only those officers whom you know to be friends of the people.
Obey only delegates sent from the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies!
Soldiers! Now, when you have arisen and achieved victory, those coming to join you include not only friends but also officers, who are former enemies and who only pretend to be your friends.
Soldiers! We are more afraid of the fox’s tail [intrigues] than the wolf’s tooth [outright aggression]. Only the workers and peasants are your true friends and brothers. Strengthen your unity with them! Send your delegate-representatives to the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, already supported by 250,000 workers in Petrograd alone. Your representatives and worker deputies should become the people’s Provisional Revolutionary Government. It will give you both land and freedom!
Soldiers, listen to us! Demand an answer from the Duma right now. Will it take land from the gentry landowners, State Treasury, and monasteries? Will it transfer land to the peasants? Will it give the people complete freedom? Will it convene the Constituent Assembly? Don’t waste time!
Soldiers! Talk about this in your companies and battalions! Hold meetings! Elect from among you commanders and representatives to the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.
All land to the peasants!
All freedom to the people!
Long live the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies!
Long live the Provisional Revolutionary Government!
Petersburg Interdistrict Committee of the RSDRP
Petersburg Committee of Socialist Revolutionaries
Published in A.G. Shlyapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 1, 1923, pp. 337-338. On Shlyapnikov’s role in the 1917 events, see Barbara C. Allen, Alexander Shlyapnikov 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik, Chicago: Haymarket Books 2016.
Other leaflets in the “1917: The view from the streets” series
1) “Down with the war; long live the revolution!” (December 1916, Bolshevik-influenced students)
2) “The day of people’s wrath is near!” (c. January 20, 1917, Mezhrayonka)
3) “Only a provisional government can bring freedom and peace” (February 6, 1917, Mensheviks)
4) “For a provisional revolutionary government of workers and poor peasants.” (February 15 ), 1917, Bolsheviks)
5) “Women’s Day in Russia 1917: A day to prepare for victory” (March 6 [February 21] 1917, Mezhrayonka)
6) “For a general strike against autocracy” (March 12 [February 27], 1917, Mezhrayonka)
Sources for this leaflet
Michael Melancon, “From the Head of Zeus: The Petrograd Soviet’s Rise and First Days, 27 February–2 March 1917”, The Carl Beck Papers in Russian & East European Studies, The Center for Russian and East European Studies, University of Pittsburgh, PA, November 2009, pp. 37-39. Melancon translates long excerpts from the leaflet. Rex A. Wade, The Russian Revolution, 1917, Cambridge, 2000, pp. 45-52, 101-102. Sources on the Mezhrayonka
Here are some English-language articles on the Interdistrict Committee (Mezhrayonka), originator of this and several other leaflets in the “View from the Streets” series.
Melancon, Michael. “Who Wrote What and When: Proclamations of the February Revolution in Petrograd, 23 February – 1 March 1917,” Soviet Studies, volume 40 (1988), pp. 479-500.
White, James D. “The February Revolution and the Bolshevik Vyborg District Committee (In Response to Michael Melancon),” Soviet Studies, volume 41 (1989), pp. 602-624.
Longley, D.A. “The Mezhraionka, the Bolsheviks, and International Women’s Day: In Response to Michael Melancon,” Soviet Studies, volume 41 (1989), pp. 625-645.
Thatcher, Ian D. “The St. Petersburg/Petrograd Mezhraionka, 1913-1917: The Rise and Fall of a Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party Unity Faction,” The Slavonic and East European Review, volume 87, no. 2 (April 2009), pp. 284-321.
A note on Russian dates
The Julian calendar used by Russia in 1917 ran 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that is in general use today. In the “View from the Streets” series, centennial dates are reckoned by the Gregorian calendar; dates are given with the Gregorian (“New Style”) date first, followed by the Julian date in parentheses.