Democratic Socialist Movement

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RUSSIAN REVOLUTION JULY 1917: The Bolsheviks “Become A Power”

RUSSIAN REVOLUTION JULY 1917: The Bolsheviks “Become A Power”

By Vincent Kolo (CWI in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan)

Just over a century ago this July, 500,000 workers and soldiers marched through the Russian capital Petrograd, with tens of thousands joining marches in Moscow, Kiev and other cities. The demonstrations on 1 July (18 June according to Russia’s old calendar), called by the pro-government socialist parties who at that time held a majority in the soviets (elected workers’ and soldiers’ councils) marked an important new stage in the Russian Revolution.

Intended to show support for the capitalist Provisional Government, the June demonstration did the opposite, showcasing its deepening unpopularity among the working class and militant sections of the army the very forces that had made the February revolution which overthrew the tsar’s dictatorship.

The first All-Russian Congress of Soviets opened in Petrograd at the start of the month with a commanding pro-government majority. This however no longer reflected the real political mood in society. “The congress consisted for the most part of people who had registered as socialists in March but got tired of the revolution by June,” noted Leon Trotsky in his History of the Russian Revolution.

Soldiers enjoyed more generous representation than workers in the soviets, a fact that strengthened the more conservative forces especially in the earlier phase of the revolution. The shift to the left was far more pronounced within the factory committees and the working class, especially in Petrograd. “Down with the Ten Capitalist Ministers”. The pro-government Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries (SRs) gained a majority in the soviets after the fall of the tsar, when the political differences within the mass movement were not fully clear. They used the towering authority of the soviets to prop up a capitalist regime that was incapable of fulfilling society’s most basic needs.

In May 1917, the Provisional Government became a coalition with the induction, alongside ten representatives of openly capitalist parties, of six ‘socialist ministers’ from the Mensheviks and SRs. Lenin described this as an “alliance to stop the revolution”. His Bolshevik party conducted continuous agitation around the slogan, “Down with the Ten Capitalist Ministers,” putting the responsibility onto the then soviet majority to break with the capitalists. The soviet leaders claimed they were defending ‘revolutionary democracy’, a slogan the Bolsheviks mercilessly criticised for its lack of class content: Which class did the government serve?

This would be the crux of the political battle between the Bolshevik delegates at the Soviet Congress and its pro-government majority. The issue was brought into even sharper focus by the government’s plan under pressure from its imperialist allies to launch a new military offensive, shattering once and for all the myth that it stood for peace.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks would continue to “patiently explain” to the masses, to break their lingering illusions in the coalitionist parties currently dominating the soviets. Only a government of the soviets, breaking with capitalism and embarking on the socialist revolution, could safeguard the democratic gains of February and lead society out of crisis and war.

Full version of this article originally published on July 1, 2017 and other materials on Russian 1917 Revolution whose centenary is this year and other events in run up to it and afterwards, visit, a special website of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) dedicated for the celebration of Russian 1917 Revolution.