October Revolution in Russia – 100 years: The July Days – Turning Point of the Revolution

Lenin address congress of peasants sovietsThe July demonstrations and their immediate aftermath represented a turning point in the revolution in Russia. The dual power came to an end. The whole power passed into the hands of the Provisional Government, while the Soviets, with their Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik leaders, had become an appendage of the Provisional Government. The peaceful period of the revolution had ended.

The February Revolution in 1917, which overthrew the rule of the Tsar, resulted in a situation of “dual power”. A Provisional government came into being consisting of representatives of the capitalist parties. On the other hand, the Soviets of Workers and Soldiers deputies represented the working class and peasantry who had fought heroic battles to overthrow the hated rule of the Tsar.

In his celebrated April Thesis (MEL June 1-15, 2017), Lenin had explained that the Provisional government would not fulfill the demands of the working class and peasantry for bread, peace and land. The Bolshevik Party recognized that the Soviets were dominated by the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries who were creating illusions that the Provisional Government would fulfill the people’s demands. The Bolshevik Party took up the task of consistently and sharply exposing before the workers, peasants and soldiers, the true nature of the Provisional Government as a government of the capitalists and pointing to the necessity for the Soviets to take power into their own hands.

Demonstration in Petrograd in May 1917Demonstration of workers and peasants in Petrograd in 1917

In the period following the February Revolution, the condition of the working class, peasantry and masses of people in Russia went from bad to worse. Food prices soared from month to month, factories closed down and thousands upon thousands of workers were thrown out of work. Nothing was done to assuage the land hunger of the peasants, who resorted increasingly to seizing land from the landlords. Support for the Bolsheviks and their stand of consistent opposition to the Provisional Government grew steadily, within the soviets and outside. Party membership rose significantly, while the people’s anger and frustration with the government boiled over again and again, leading to severe political crisis.

On May 1, the foreign Minister of the Provisional government announced that Russia would continue to participate in the imperialist war. On May 3, at the call of the Bolshevik Party, more than 1 lakh workers and soldiers staged a massive demonstration with the slogans “Publish the secret treaties!”, “Down with the war!” and “All power to the Soviets!”. The anger of the masses forced the collapse of the Provisional Government on May 15. A Coalition Provisional Government was formed which in addition to the representatives of the capitalist parties, included Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. These parties had openly deserted to the camp of the counter-revolution.

Lenin addressing Peasants Soviets CongressLenin addressing the delegates to the First All-Russian
Congress of Soviets of Peasant deputies
Lakhs of workers demonstration on 18Jun1917Lakhs of workers demonstration on 18 June 1917 in Petrograd
Demonstration in Petrograd of SoldiersSoldiers demonstrate in Petrograd on 18 June 1917

The First All Russian Congress of Soviets began on June 16. The Bolsheviks were still in a minority in the Soviets. The Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, which was in the control of the Mensheviks, gave a call for a demonstration on July 1, hoping to mobilize the masses in support of the Provisional Coalition Government and continuation of the war. The Bolshevik Party defeated these plans. Four lakh demonstrators drowned the Mensheviks and SR’s slogans of compromise with the Provisional Government and of continuation of the war, with the slogans of “Down with the war!”, “All power to the Soviets!”

In an attempt to stem the revolutionary tide, on the same day (July 1) the Provisional Government ordered the soldiers at the front to take the offensive. The military offensive failed miserably. This aroused the indignation of the workers and soldiers and exposed the Provisional Government’s real intentions of continuing with the imperialist war.

It was in these conditions that on July 16, the First Machine Gun regiment in Petrograd broke out in spontaneous revolt when it was ordered to proceed to the front in a renewed military offensive declared by the Provisional Government. They were joined by workers from the city’s Vyborg district and the sailors from Kronstadt, as well as others. From July 16 and July 20, the demonstrations grew bigger and bigger engulfing the capital.

The Bolshevik Party was opposed to armed action at that time, for it considered that the revolutionary crisis had not yet matured, that the army and the provinces were not yet prepared to support an uprising in the capital, and that an isolated and premature rising might only make it easier for the counter-revolutionaries to crush the vanguard of the revolution. But when it became obviously impossible to keep the masses from demonstrating, the Party resolved to participate in the demonstration in order to lend it a peaceful and organized character. This the Bolshevik Party succeeded in doing. Hundreds of thousands of men and women marched to the headquarters of the Petrograd Soviet where they demanded that the Soviets take the power into their own hands, break with the imperialist bourgeoisie, and pursue an active peace policy.

The Provisional Government, fully backed by the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries in the Soviets, let loose furious repression on the peaceful demonstrators, killing and wounding hundreds, in the manner of the former tsarist autocracy. Revolutionary detachments of troops were disarmed and disbanded, and the most reactionary armed divisions were recalled from the front to attack the demonstrators. The Bolsheviks and their leaders were hunted down, the Party offices and printing press was raided and smashed. The counter-revolution was in full force.

The July demonstrations and their immediate aftermath represented a turning point in the revolution in Russia. The dual power came to an end. The whole power passed into the hands of the Provisional Government, while the Soviets, with their Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik leaders, had become an appendage of the Provisional Government. The peaceful period of the revolution had ended.

Comprehending the changed situation, the Bolshevik party leadership immediately called for a change of tactics. The Party went underground and began preparations for the armed overthrow of bourgeois rule. The Sixth Congress of the Party was convened in secrecy, right in the midst of the raging terror, from 8 to 16 August. The Congress affirmed that that there was no longer any possibility of peaceful development of the revolution. It placed squarely on the agenda the necessity to prepare the proletariat to overthrow the Provisional Government by force and seize state power.

The July crisis, which erupted in the revolt of the masses followed by the counter-revolution, thus contributed in dispelling the harmful illusions propagated by the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries about the bourgeois Provisional Government. It confronted the working class with the truth that the only path before it was to seize state power with the help of the poor peasantry. It placed the immediate preparation for the proletarian revolution squarely on the agenda. In the weeks that followed, the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin was able to skillfully utilize the conditions of unremitting crisis to prepare the working class politically and organizationally to overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie. This was achieved on November 7 that same year, when the working class of Petrograd under Bolshevik leadership stormed the citadel of power and established the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The July turning point in the Russian revolution in 1917 showed the absolute necessity for the leadership of a communist party, to lead the masses through all the twists and turns of the revolution, unswervingly towards the goal of establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat.


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