The Russian Revolutions of 1917



Considerations on the February and October Revolutions


In commemorations and remembrances of the 2017th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, in 1905, the October revolution was always a central reference, considered – celebrated, criticized or abhorred – by historiography and common sense as the cradle of Soviet socialism. As for the other revolutions of the revolutionary cycle that changed the face of the world and of Russia, and which lasted from 1921 to XNUMX, they were often omitted and, when mentioned, only gained quick references, as if October were a kind of sun and the other revolutions just satellites, without their own light.

In the essays I wrote at the time, I tried to emphasize, always from the angle of social history,[I] and for a better understanding of the Russian revolutions, the need to encompass five revolutionary processes in two cycles, which were articulated in time – the 1905 revolution, the revolutions of 1917 (February and October), “the democratic cycle”, and the civil wars (1918-1921) and the Kronstadt revolution (1921) – “the authoritarian cycle”.

Furthermore, I formulated the hypothesis that the true cradle of Soviet socialism would not be located exactly in October 1917, the third revolution of the first cycle, but during the second cycle, inaugurated by the civil wars. It was then that there really would have been a revolution within the revolution.4, through profound social, political, economic and cultural transformations. These transformations, in turn, would condition the subsequent developments, the crushing of the last revolution – that of Kronstadt, in 1921 and, later, the revolution from above, undertaken from the end of the 1920s, which would resume references and guidelines shaped during the civil wars.[ii]

In this interpretation, the emphasis in October could largely be attributed to the political disputes that, from the outset, conditioned debates on the history of the Russian revolutions and Soviet socialism. On the one hand, Soviet and communist historiography, celebrating, in a positive way, the decisive role of the Bolsheviks, Lenin, the cities and the working class. On the other hand, the testimonies of those defeated by the revolution and the anticommunist historiography, the cold warriors, especially after World War II, cold war militants, demonizing Lenin and the Bolsheviks in general in a negative way.[iii]

This polarization obscured the study of the other revolutions, their links, the interdependence between them and even the possibility of questioning the central position attributed to October.

In this article, my concern is to establish the links between the 1905 revolution and those that took place in 1917, February and October, which, in my view, constituted the “democratic cycle” of Russian revolutions. In my view, this first cycle forms a congruent set defined by the democratic struggles, which, after all, triumphed, in their most radical forms, in October 1917. The authoritarian and statist rupture, which would mark Soviet socialism – “the authoritarian cycle” – will occur next, in the framework of civil wars and in the context of the crushing of the last revolution, which took place in Kronstadt, in March 1921, when the doors of a possible democratic socialism in Russia were closed.[iv]


The 1905 revolution

The 1905 revolution, in the context of the revolutionary cycle, is one of the most underrated. Unfairly, by the way.[v] It was not exactly a “dress rehearsal” of the 1917 revolutions, but the metaphor had some basis, although it would be inappropriate to call an entire historical process “preparation” for others that, at the time, were not even imagined.

It would be more appropriate to call it what it was, a frustrated revolution, missed, as FX Coquin rightly called it.[vi] Or as the first Russian revolution, according to the title of the collection that published the works of a seminar commemorating the 80th anniversary of this revolution[vii]. Several aspects attest to the importance of what happened in Russia in 1905.

The association between war and revolution then became evident, something that was not on the radar of international social democracy, whose predictions about the revolution associated it more with economic crises than with warlike conflicts. As could be seen throughout the XNUMXth century, wars would assume a much more devastating nature and destabilizing impact than economic crises. And they would tend to radicalize the popular classes much more profoundly than economic crises.

In the case of the Russian Empire, in 1905, the disintegrating potential of the combination of modes of production would also be verified – the uneven and combined development in the happy conceptualization of Leon Trotsky[viii] – in a given society. When subjected to intense pressure, this combination would have an explosive – and revolutionary – effect. On the other hand, and surprising the revolutionaries of the XNUMXth century, the revolution would not find the best conditions in the most developed capitalist societies. Although stronger working classes were concentrated there, capitalism would also be more resilient, more plastic and capable of withstanding antagonistic pressures. In agrarian societies, in the context of the combination of modes of production, subjected to destabilizing pressures, the revolutionary explosion would gain unforeseen and forceful intensity.

It is true that some more astute leaders, such as VI Lenin and Leon Trotsky, perceived hypotheses not yet considered, opened by the revolutionary process of 1905. In their own modulations, they coined the formulations of “permanent revolution” (Trotsky) and “uninterrupted revolution” (Lenin ), imagining a historic leap over the bourgeois-democratic stage, until then considered axiomatic by the social-democratic tradition on agrarian societies as long as the revolution in Russia was accompanied by an international revolution in Europe. Despite this, however, they did not invest in changing the Russian social-democratic program, established in 1903, and which remained unchanged until 1917, based on the characterization of the two stages (bourgeois-democratic and socialist). It should be noted, however, that the content of the “permanent revolution”, that is, the passage from the “bourgeois” stage to the socialist stage was already included in the anarchist proposals and in the program of the Socialist Revolutionaries, in particular, defended by the left-wing SRs, the Union of Maximalist Socialist-Revolutionaries.[ix]

The four main social actors of the 1905 revolution, in their movement and rapid radicalization, would also surprise: the working class and its waves of mass strikes and political strikes, aiming at the conquest of economic and political claims already put into effect in several societies in central Europe and western,[X] the peasantry, although on a much less important scale, with demands for the abolition of taxes or/and the extinction of leases; soldiers and sailors, in mutinies that broke out mainly in naval bases (Sevastopol) or on warships (the episode of the battleship Potemkim) and that demanded the end of the war and the democratization of the armed forces. Even when reinvented by fiction, as in the case of the aforementioned battleship, they have become historical landmarks.[xi] Last but not least, the non-Russian nations, nearly half of the Russian Empire in demographic terms, demanding autonomy and sometimes complete independence,

In contrast, the social elites and the bourgeoisie did not show the expected dynamism. It is true that, in the first semester, its social representations, such as the Union of Unions, bringing together associations of liberal professionals; and the Democratic Constitutionalist party, the Kadetes, showed a certain willingness to fight. After the October Manifesto, however, they revealed great political timidity attributed to their double dependence, political and economic – on the State and on international capital.[xii]

In the context of the broad social movements of 1905, another form of democratic, original and innovative organization would emerge, the workers' councils, the soviets[xiii]. At first, in May, they appeared as struggle and strike organizations. And they spread to several cities, including what was then St. Petersburg, capital of the Empire. There they assumed great political importance, particularly in the context of the great strike of October 1905, asserting themselves as an unprecedented democratic experience (election and recall of representatives) for large contingents of workers, and even exercising, at certain times, activities of a alternative public power. The experience would always be evoked, in particular by a left-wing fraction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and, above all, by anarchist currents, which, from the beginning, saw in them possible embryos of a federative power structure in the form of a network, which corresponded to the its directions and perspectives.[xiv].

The effervescence of the popular classes and the protagonism assumed by workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors did not hide, however, the fact that the political leadership of the parties, including the socialists, were mostly occupied by leaders who, from a social point of view, they were linked to the social elites. It was a popular revolution – of illiterate or semi-literate people –, but politically led by literate intellectuals, coming from the middle or upper classes of society. The contradictions that could arise from this were not considered a relevant issue. Against popular demands, the tsarist regime asserted itself. In this sense, important concessions contributed – the peace treaty with Japan, withdrawing Russia from an exhausting war, in September 1905; and the recognition of a representative Assembly to be elected, through the aforementioned October manifesto.

Victorious, the autocracy seemed consolidated, embodying the traditions of a dynasty that had reigned for nearly three centuries.[xv] Despite the victory of the revolution, after the crushing of the Moscow insurrection in December 1905, the political forces committed to it did not suffer a catastrophic defeat. Its main leaders and political parties, partially legalized, were protected within the framework of the Imperial Duma, although the powers of the latter and the legal margins of its political action have always been quite limited.

However, the Russian revolution of 1905 had a great international impact, especially in Europe, reinforcing radical trends in the social-democratic movement that made the “Russian example” a lever to deepen the questioning of parliamentary reformism that marked the trajectory of European socialist parties.[xvi]

To end these brief reflections on the essentially democratic revolution of 1905, we could not fail to raise the question of unpredictability in the course of historical events. this revolution manquee, it would surprise, like those that would come later, the vast majority of those who thought about Russian society, including the revolutionaries.


The February Revolution of 1917

After the defeat of the Moscow insurrection in December 1905, the revolutionary forces were not to recover anytime soon, despite the hopes of the most optimistic. Criticism and questioning of the Tsarist Order would be limited to parliamentary work, which was very controlled and limited, and to popular organizations that, clandestinely, carried out a molecular work of agitation and propaganda.[xvii] In exile, in Siberia or abroad, many political leaders remained active, but the effect of their work was almost irrelevant from the social point of view. In this context, surviving was already a victory.

The situation began to change in April 1912, when, during a protest by workers in the Bodajbo gold mines, in the Lena River basin, in Siberia, politicians. It is important to highlight the social force that drove the Soviet movement, which largely overlapped with political parties. The revolutionary socialist party, founded at the end of 1901, also participated in the formation of the soviets, albeit in minority positions. For the SRs cf. DW Treagold, 1951 and 1955. It should be noted that a “left” fraction of the SRs, the aforementioned Union of Maximalist Revolutionary Socialists, was formed in 1905 and would subsequently defend radical conceptions of “Soviet power” (Cf. Anweiller, 1974; HJ Strauss, 1973; M. Ferro, 2011).

Military repression killed hundreds of workers, causing an uproar throughout the empire. Since then, social movements in the cities – workers and students – have been reactivated, reaching a relatively high level during the first half of 1914.[xviii] However, when the Great War began, in August of this year, to the chagrin of the most radical sectors, the immense majority of people living in Russia united around the imperial government and the defense of the threatened homeland – the so-called Holy Union, which erased, even temporarily, class differences and contradictions. The few parliamentarians, Bolsheviks, who openly protested were arrested. The violence did not produce any social upheaval.

From the first month of the War, the inferiority of the Russians vis-à-vis the Germans became evident. The imperial armies were more numerous and Russian soldiers, once again, would demonstrate fearlessness and a spirit of sacrifice, but they were clearly inferior in weapons, ammunition and logistics (rail networks, means of communication and equipment of all kinds). Furthermore, the Russian officers and command, with few exceptions, demonstrated remarkable incapacity from the point of view of the demands of modern warfare.[xx]

As a result, that war soon turned into a succession of Germanic victories and, on the Russian side, into carnage. Before the end of 1915, there were about 4 million losses, including dead, wounded, prisoners and missing persons. One debacle. Faced with the government's incapacity, society began to self-organize to deal with the challenges and urgencies of war: transportation and assistance to the wounded; supply; industry organization. In the Duma's plan, the so-called Progressive Bloc was formed, requesting the formation of a government accountable to Parliament.

In 1916, the factory strike movement reappeared. At the base of society, the anger of the people raised social pressures.[xx] Among the elites, conspiracies, focusing on the empress, of German origin, and the figure of Rasputin, a Siberian of obscure origins, to whom supposed miraculous gifts were attributed.[xxx] At the same time, his penchant for continuous orgies compromised the prestige of the Imperial family, demoralizing the Tsar, the government and social elites. At the end of 1916, a group of nobles killed Rasputin, but, in addition, they did not manage to go to the machinations at the heights of society, showing limitations that had already been demonstrated in 1905.

The situation was visibly decomposing and social disintegration was regularly recorded by the political police. Despite this, there was no prediction of an immediate outcome. Not even VI Lenin, exiled in Switzerland, expected an immediate outbreak of major proportions.[xxiii]. However, this is exactly what happened.

From the 23nd of February[xxiii] 1917, in what was then Petrograd,[xxv] began a five-day insurrectionary process that would lead, to general surprise, to the overthrow of an empire, whose dynastic house – the Romanovs – had reigned for three centuries…

The process began with a march of women, in honor of their international day.[xxiv] He paraded through the central streets of the city with banners and flags calling for bread and the end of the war. The fact that it attracted general sympathy and was not bothered by repression cheered people up. The following day, there were other marches, denser and more vibrant. Again, apart from a few clashes with police agents, the processions of demonstrators were not repressed. Even the Cossacks, known for their brutality, seemed indifferent and, at times, sympathetic. It was already out of bounds and the police were given strict orders to stop the avalanche. The political militants, who feared at the beginning a ruthless and devastating repression, already participated and encouraged the third day of demonstrations.

There were more violent confrontations, arousing more indignation than fear. The fourth day saw a torrent of demonstrators. This time, troops stationed in Petrograd were mobilized. There were fellowship rehearsals. However, on orders from the officers, soldiers fired, injuring and killing hundreds of people. The shot backfired. That night and early the next morning, revolted, regiments rebelled against their officers and joined forces with other barracks. Thus, on the fifth day of demonstrations, there was a great fraternization between soldiers and workers. The Arsenal was taken over with distribution of weapons to the population. The Palace of Justice was set on fire as well as police stations and prisons, freeing the prisoners. The victory of the insurrection was confirmed.

The Tsar and the general staff of the army still made attempts to reverse the situation, sending new troops to repress the revolted city. In vain. Troops scattered and fell apart in contact with the demonstrators or got lost along the way on railroad sidings, their movements sabotaged by the railroad workers.[xxv]

Still on the fifth day at night, while negotiations were under way in the Imperial Duma for the formation of a provisional government, a council was constituted, a Sovietof workers and soldiers. On March 2, trying to maintain the monarchy, the Tsar abdicated in the name of his brother. The maneuver was unsuccessful. The Archduke, Michael, feeling insecure, also resigned. The tsarist autocracy had collapsed.[xxviii] A time of doubts, uncertainties, promises, fears and hopes opened.

Some aspects deserve to be highlighted in the February revolution.

As already mentioned, it was an unforeseen revolution. Desired by revolutionaries and feared by social elites and repression, certainly. But surprising, for the strength, intensity and speed with which it was produced. Particular mention should be made of the breakdown of the armed forces and the consequent – ​​decisive – participation of soldiers. However, such disaggregation only happened because it was provoked by the manifestations of the Petrograd workers.

An “anonymous” revolution. Nothing spontaneous, as those who overestimate political parties and organizations as formulators and “makers” of history want to believe. But carried out by groups and articulations invisible to the naked eye, which organized, in defiance of law and order, the demonstrations that, in a crescendo, effectively overthrew the autocracy.

A “violent” revolution, contradicting a certain legend that depicts February 1917 as a peaceful movement, without opposition. The official casualty count recorded just over 1.400 dead and around 6 wounded.[xxviii]

It should also be mentioned that it was a “unanimous” revolution, insofar as, victorious in Petrograd, it triggered a dynamic of adhesions that reached all spaces of the vast Russian empire and also all social classes and political institutions, including the top commanders of the army. who constrained – or remained indifferent to – the tsar and his brother to double abdication.

The unexpected, anonymous, violent and unanimous February insurrection, like that of 1905, was a democratic revolution. The ensuing months would attest to its radical potential.


The democratic revolution spreads its wings

With the tsarist autocracy overthrown, Russia, which was considered a “prison of the peoples”, became the “freest country in the world”. The point is that the Empire was not just any state. As Claudio Ingerflom demonstrated,[xxix] it would not be possible to understand it as if it were a European State.

O gosudarstvo, a traditional term used until today to translate the word and concept of “State” into Russian, imported from the West, presupposed and expressed an absolute and overwhelming power, essentially different from the State in European molds, born from the French Revolution. It is true that, in the context of the reforms initiated in the 1860s, several “intermediate” institutions were created between society and the Tsar, such as the Dumas/Municipal Assemblies and the Zemstva/Provincial Assemblies, institutions representing the social elites. Later, after the 1905 revolution, the Imperial Duma began to operate and political parties were legalized. However, all these institutions, as well as those created within the scope of Education and Justice, remained without any kind of autonomy, completely subordinated to the will of the Tsar, and without any independent decision-making power.[xxx]

So that, following the overthrow of the autocracy, there was an enormous power vacuum. Occupying this space, multiple powers tended to emerge[xxxii]. It is true that a Provisional Government was soon constituted, redone and reformed several times throughout the year, until it was overthrown by the October Revolution. However, its powers were very limited, even from the point of view of controlling traditional civil and military institutions.

On the other hand, in parallel, different institutions would appear everywhere, expressing the conscience and will of the popular classes – soviets, committees, unions, assemblies, associations, clubs, etc., in factories, in educational institutions, in neighborhoods. At a certain point, it became difficult to find a citizen who was not part of one or two institutions and these, in turn, did not obey any kind of political or geographic “center”, assuming the format of a network.[xxxi]

The Petrograd soviet undoubtedly had great political prestige, due to its location in the country's capital and the dimensions it reached, but its decisions or guidelines had no binding or coercive power for the other cities and even for the dozens and dozens of soviets or committees that existed in the city of Petrograd itself.

It should be noted that, as of March, the same process of forming committees, soviets and popular organizations was unleashed in the countryside, where 85% of the population lived, and in the trenches and battle lines, where around 7 million men were stationed. , “peasants in uniform” for the most part.[xxxii]

In the same way, among non-Russian nations, very diverse among themselves, but demographically relevant, almost half of the population of the Empire, this process of self-organization was also spreading, creating, in different forms, political parties and regional or regional assemblies. national.

At first, the demands of the people were quite modest. Workers asked for rights already recognized in most European states, summarized in the 8 hours of work. They also asked for wage adjustments that would allow them to deal with rising inflation, and improvements in working conditions that would respect their dignity as human beings.

Soldiers and sailors, still timidly, requested that peace gestures be forwarded to the belligerent powers. They did not want to be considered “cowards”, but they drew attention to the harshness of life in the trenches and the need to put an end to the carnage.

The peasants requested access to the land, all the land, black sharing, a historic claim. And without any kind of compensation. As for the non-Russian nations, some were already talking about independence, but most were satisfied with margins of autonomy, legally enshrined, in a federation or confederation, whose contours it would be urgent to define.[xxxv]

Articulating these claims, the Constituent Assembly emerged, the historic aspiration of all opposition currents to tsarist autocracy. That it be chosen by universal suffrage, the sovereign free to formulate a new constitutional pact that would organize society along the lines of a democratic republic (the more moderate ones dreamed of a constitutional monarchy, inspired by the British model).[xxxiv] The Provisional Government, supported by the Petrograd Soviet, recognized some of these claims: in agreement with the business community, an 8-hour working day was decreed; broad democratic freedoms and amnesty for all political prisoners became law, as did the right to citizenship for all peoples living in Russia. At the international level, a call was also approved to all belligerent peoples and states for an immediate opening of negotiations to end the war. Other fundamental issues, such as the national question and the land question, would be studied by specific committees that would prepare studies and proposals to be considered by the Constituent Assembly, whose date would be set later.[xxxiv]. Considering Russia's past, these were important advances. However, in view of the boiling atmosphere that began to exist throughout the country, they soon came to be considered insufficient.

The liberals of the Constitutional-Democratic Party, the Kadets, on the one hand, leading the Provisional Government, and, on the other hand, the moderate social democrats, the Mensheviks, and the revolutionary socialists, hegemonic in the Soviet organizations, seemed to have the situation under control. control.[xxxviii]

They then formulated a kind of equation: the established democratic freedoms would be maintained, however, deeper reforms would have to wait for the convening of the Constituent Assembly, elected by all the peoples of Russia, that is, with representativeness and legitimacy to formulate and adopt a new institutional framework that enshrined the major reforms demanded. All this, however, had to wait for the end of the War, an indispensable condition for free elections to be held, with the participation of all, including those in the territories occupied by the Germans. The equation, considered reasonable by many, was approved by the First All-Russian Congress of Peasants, in May 1917, and by the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Soldiers and Workers, in June of the same year. However, very quickly, it lost tune with the democratic social movements that unfolded with increasing radicalism.

Among the workers, the demand for workers' control was asserted, that is, the right of workers to gain a voice – and a decision-making capacity – to recruit and fire workers, to check the financial situation of companies, and also to supervise the flow of workers. raw materials and production of companies. Such ideas were defended by the “factory committees”, organizations that spread throughout the big cities – and that would stand out as the most radical wings of the labor movement.[xxxviii]

Peasants, since May, began to carry out land occupations, undertaken by the “agrarian committees”.[xxxix] Although the peasants' congress, mentioned above, had approved the need to await the Constituent Assembly, in practice, in many provinces, the people were moving to the expropriation of land through violence. Armed defecting soldiers often took the lead in such episodes.[xl]

Non-Russian nations also indicated that they were unwilling to wait for the Constituent Assembly. Nationalist movements in Ukraine, Finland, the Caucasus and even in Central Asia presented autonomy and independence proposals that were difficult to assimilate by the coalition of liberals and moderate socialists.[xi]. The most dangerous threat came from the ongoing process in the military. Shortly after the victory of the February insurrection, an anonymous group of soldiers issued, on their own initiative, the so-called Prikaz n° 1[xliii]. Despite the anodyne title49, the document encouraged the radical democratization of the armed forces. It provided that, in all military units, committees of soldiers and sailors should be formed, with broad powers to control weapons and ammunition and military movements of any nature. In addition, soldiers and sailors were required to be treated as citizens, no longer being required to salute off-duty officers. The officers accused the coup, insofar as, especially in war, the regular armed forces are based, as is known, on discipline and hierarchy. They protested, but in vain, in the face of a process of disintegration that, from then on, would gain speed, since the power's initiatives on war and peace had no concrete effect. A combination of mass desertions and open challenges to the officers would, little by little, annul the operational capacity of the Russian navy and armies.

These social movements, converging, would, at ever-increasing speed, within the framework of a chaotic economic crisis[xiii], to question and, finally, make unfeasible the articulation of the dominant political forces, constituted by the liberals and the moderate socialists. In the context of successive crises (April, July and August), these political currents lost their support bases, including in popular organizations.

In contrast, and as a result, the parties and political currents committed to the most radical proposals grew: the Bolsheviks, the Left Socialist Revolutionaries[xiv] and the anarchists[xlv], who would form an alliance around the proposal to overthrow the Provisional Government and transfer all power to the soviets. In addition to expressing such proposals, these parties, and more and more, encouraged the contradiction between those “from below” and those “from above”.[xlv], radicalized by the depth with which social inequalities were presented.

It should be added that even within the popular organizations, and since March 1917, another contradiction was evident between popular participation, active at the grassroots and in large assemblies, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the pre-eminence in the commissions and executive, management and organization bodies, made up of individuals from the middle or upper strata of society. Literate and familiar with the Word, they took on an immeasurable importance, as had already happened in the 1905 revolution.[xlv]. On the other hand, in urban soviets, soldiers and workers in small and medium-sized enterprises acquired an overrepresentation in relation to workers in large factories. The fact was recorded and raised protests as a limit and a contradiction to the democratic principle.[xlviii].

However, the dynamism of social movements and popular organizations opened up promising horizons, creating conditions for a new revolution, capable of meeting the radical democratic demands of the popular classes and the immense majority of the peoples who lived in Russia.


The October Revolution

This new revolution took place, after all, in October 1917. Unlike the one in February, it was not anonymous but organized by the Military Revolutionary Committee/CRM of the Petrograd Soviet. It did not happen in an unexpected way, it was planned and executed by identified political forces: the Bolshevik party, supported by the Left Socialist Revolutionaries and by the anarchists. It was not the result of a popular and workers' insurrection to which the soldiers joined, but a process basically undertaken by soldiers and sailors (from Kronstadt). It did not unfold over several days, but was resolved in little more than 24 hours, between the afternoon of October 24, when revolutionary troop movements began in Petrograd, and the night/dawn of October 25/26, when the Winter Palace fell to the insurgents.[xlix]

The revolution, whose chances of victory would be underestimated by many leaders and political forces, asserted itself with remarkable speed throughout Russia, surprising its enemies and even a good part of its own supporters and leaders. The character of the victorious revolution would, however, raise countless controversies.

It is common in history to find episodes that give rise to passionate controversies and in relation to which, decades later, it is still not possible to establish consensus. The October revolution is certainly one of these episodes. And the political passions unleashed by and around her produced various distortions.

Primo, led historians' eyes to the cities, and to Petrograd in particular, obscuring the fundamental and equally decisive role played by the agrarian revolution. Second, privileged the struggles between political parties, imagining them as demiurges of history, almost always losing sight of the fact that their performance, with due regard for their specific importance, was much more an expression of social movements and popular organizations than the opposite. Thirdly, in debates about parties, the examination of their leaderships, worshiped and/or demonized as responsible for the political processes in which they participated, grew in importance.

Cities, parties and leaderships are in fact unavoidable aspects, but one wonders to what extent the excessive attention dedicated to them ended up eluding movements and social contexts without studying which the revolutionary process remains an indecipherable enigma.

A revisionist historiographical movement, from the 1960s onwards, emphasizing the importance of contexts and social movements, managed, through innovative research (many of which are a reference for this article), to open new paths and alternatives – of research directions, of objects to be studied and from methodological angles.[l]

One of his most important contributions, among others, was to reposition the debate about the October insurrection. A mere coup, cunningly and machinably hatched by the Bolsheviks? As proposed by cold warriors[li]? Or an audacious social revolution, as Soviet and communist historiography intended?

The Gordian Knot has been cut by several historians. A hit, certainly. Which does not exclude the evidence of a historic revolution. Instead of proposing radically divergent alternatives: coup OR revolution, the apparently paradoxical meeting of the two poles that seemed, at first sight, antagonistic: coup and revolution.[liiii]

The coup is threefold evident: in the decision and in the preparation of the insurrection before and in defiance of the Second Congress of Soviets, undertaken by the Bolsheviks, on the proposal of V. Lenin[iii]. In the triggering of the military insurrection on October 24, 1917, therefore before the meeting of the Second Congress of Soviets. And in the publication of a note, on the morning of October 25, 1917, signed by the Military Revolutionary Committee/CRM, announcing the overthrow of the Provisional Government, thus placing the Second Congress of Soviets, which would open hours later, before of a fait accompli. On these evidences would base the historians cold warriors to affirm the coup character of October and, from then on, the ineradicable authoritarian origins of Soviet socialism[book].

However, at the same time, the social revolution would be evident in the course of the Second Congress of Soviets, opened on the night of October 25, 1917[lv]. In the first session of the Congress, the delegates would approve the transfer of all power to the soviets, validating with their votes the victorious military insurrection and would approve a declaration of commitments which included the proposal of an “immediate and democratic” peace, the delivery of all lands the peasants, the democratization of the armed forces; workers' control over production; respect for the convening of the Constituent Assembly[lv] and the right of all nations populating Russia to dispose of themselves[lviii].

A second session, which began on the night of October 26, would adopt the decree on land, incorporating the peasants' historic claims and legally enshrining the ongoing agrarian revolution. Finally, they would form the first revolutionary government, the Council of People's Commissars/CCP, on a provisional basis, to be confirmed by the Constituent Assembly to be elected in a few weeks. Thus, the demands of ongoing social movements – from workers (workers' control), soldiers and sailors (peace and democratization of the armed forces), peasants (distribution of all land, no annexations) and non-Russian nations (right to independence) , the four basic vectors of the historical revolutionary process of 1917 – were solemnly adopted and proclaimed.

It was for no other reason that, contrary to what happened in February, the adhesions to the new government quickly multiplied, guaranteeing the “triumphal march of the Soviet revolution” throughout Russia.[lviii] and allowing V. Lenin, referring to the process, to formulate a lapidary sentence: “it was easier than lifting a feather”. It was the triumph of a radical, historic democratic revolution. The realization of what had remained a frustration in 1905. The crowning of the horizons opened in 1905.

However, a consensus was formed on the October revolution, exalting or demonizing it, as the cradle of Soviet socialism, radically distinguishing it from previous revolutions, and, in the same movement, sending the latter to obscurity. It is exactly this commonplace that we intend to question in the last part of this article.


The 1905 and 1917 revolutions (February/October): the forgotten links

The 1905 revolution is often presented as a “dress rehearsal”, or, more appropriately, as a failed revolution. That of February 1917 appears as “spontaneous”, as it is the tradition of political parties – and of the political police – to designate as “spontaneous” all processes not explicitly directed by visible and registered political organizations. The October revolution, celebrated or demonized, is seen as a radical break with the past, including the two that preceded it, the cradle of a new regime – Soviet socialism.

These denominations conceal – or escape from them – something essential – the democratic nexus between the first three Russian revolutions.

The three witnessed grandiose struggles for the democratization of Russian society. Democratization of political power – contained in the proposal to overthrow the Autocracy, opening up the possibility of self-organization of the people and the election by universal suffrage – direct and secret – of a Constituent Assembly. Democratization of land ownership – until then monopolized by a few tens of thousands of landowners, by the State and the Church, now handed over, without any type of compensation, to peasant families who would be in charge of distributing them according to the needs and possibilities of each family's work. Democratization of the armed forces – governed by authoritarian devices that denied human dignity. Democratization of the economy, questioning corporate despotism and structuring workers' control over production. Self-determination of peoples, finally, democratically recognizing the right of non-Russian nations to aim at – and decide – their destinies, separating themselves, if that were the case, from Russia.

Throughout these revolutions, this democratic program was outlined and defeated in 1905. It was reinstated as a hypothesis in February 1917. It matured throughout the struggles of this year, when Russia would become the freest society in the world, witnessing a remarkable process of self-determination. -organization of people, in the form of soviets, committees, assemblies of all kinds. Finally, the program would become victorious, through the revolution of October 1917, when the Second Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies approved it, which was subsequently confirmed by the election of the Constituent Assembly, in November 1917, when the socialist parties – the democracy/democracy – won by a huge margin – more than 85% of the votes and, finally, by the Second Congress of rural committees and soviets, in December 1917.

Despite the coup character of the October insurrection, devised and decided by the Bolsheviks without consulting the democratic organizations, the Bolsheviks themselves were forced to bow to the strength of the democratic movements and organizations, leading to the vote and approval of the Soviet congresses a radically democratic program, which, in some essential points, were foreign to their convictions, formulations and programs.

The triumph of the democratic program between October and December 1917, despite contradictions and authoritarian tendencies, which were already recorded – and denounced – consecrated the victory of millions of women and men, materialized a radical democratic revolution, historic, of relevance and worldwide impact.

It is these broad social bases that allow understanding of the “triumphal advance of the Soviet revolution” and the fact that achieving victory was “easier than lifting a feather”. Thus, a democratic cycle ended, obscured by the distorted way in which the Russian revolutions were, from then on, considered. This revolution would be lost and was later lost, won by a new revolution – a revolution within the revolution – undertaken in the first months of Soviet power.[lix] and consolidated throughout the civil wars (1918-1921) and war communism, which devastated Russia. The democratic hypothesis would still exhale a last – and epic – sigh, in the context of the Kronstatd revolution, in March 1921,[lx] crushed by violence. A second cycle was then completed, the authoritarian cycle, the cradle of Soviet socialism.

*Daniel Aaron Reis is a professor of Contemporary History at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF). Author, among other books, of The Revolution that Changed the World – Russia, 1917 (Company of Letters).



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[I] On the importance and innovations introduced by the methodology of social history, Cf. RG Suny, 1994 and RG Suny and A. Adams 1990. 4 See Daniel Aarão Reis, 2017a

[ii] I do not include the revolution from above in the cycles because I see it as a reiteration, on a large scale, of the references and guidelines shaped in the context of war communism (1919/1921) 6 E. Hobsbawn, 1982-1985; J. Reed, 2017; J. Stalin, 1950; LD Trotsky, 1978.

[iii] Cf. G. Buchanan, 1923; R. Browder and A. Kerensky, 1961; A. Kerensky, 1919 and 1927; P. Miliukov, 1978

(1st edition, Sofia, 1921); M. Paléologue, 1921-1923; R. Pipes, 1968 and 1995; L. Schapiro, 1965.

[iv] It should be noted that, also in March 1921, the X Congress of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Russia was held, which approved a new centralist and vertical statute, liquidating a whole tradition of internal debates that had marked the history of the Bolsheviks, mainly in 1917.

[v] Cf. O. Anweiller, 1974; FX Coquin, 1985 and FX Coquin and CG Francelle, 1986; JF Fayet; HJ Strauss, 1973 and R. Wortman, 2013

[vi] Cf. FX Coquin, 1985

[vii] Cf. FX Coquin and CG Francelle, 1986

[viii] Cf. L. Trotsky, 1975 and 1978

[ix]Cf. Volin, 1969 and O. Anweiller, 1974

[X] Cf. A. Pankratova and Sidorov, 1949

[xi] See M. Ferro, 1989.

[xii] For the history of Russian liberalism, cf. V. Leontovitch, 1974 and WG Rosenberg, 1974. The Kadets, who were already articulated underground and in exile, emerged into legality in the course of the revolution. Within the scope of social elites, another current, the Octobrists, more moderate, was formed after the so-called October Manifesto (1905), formulated by the Tsar, when he promised to convene a representative assembly, although not exactly defining its powers .

[xiii] Cf. O. Anweiller, 1974; Geller, L. and Rovenskaia, N. 1926; Khrustalev-Nosar, 1907; L. Trotsky, 1975 18 Soviets as an alternative power will also emerge in Moscow, in the context of the December uprising, and, to some extent, in other provincial cities.

[xiv] For revolutionary socialists cf. Anweiller, 1974 and DW Treagold, 1951 and 1955. For anarchists, cf. Volin, 1975. Regarding the social democrats, the Mensheviks stood out in the formation of the Soviet of St. Petersburg, in 1905, cf. Anweiller, 1974. The Bolsheviks, while considering the soviets as positive instruments of struggle, did not hide, as sometimes the Mensheviks themselves did, a certain distrust of institutions that could pose as rivals to the parties.

[xv] Cf. R. Wortaman, 2013. For the history of the Russian Empire, cf. H. Seton-Watson, 1967

[xvi] Cf. R. Luxemburg, 1979; JF Fayet, 2007

[xvii] The Imperial (Duma) Parliament would remain alive, but at the cost of a drastic limitation of its margins of freedom. It could be dissolved at any time by the Tsar and had no control over the government, appointed by the Tsar. However, political parties, including socialist ones, would be legalized, even if deputies did not enjoy parliamentary immunities.

[xviii] Cf. N. Werth, 1999. The rising curve of strikes in this period already placed Russia on the verge of a deep political and social crisis.

[xx] Cf. A. Solzhenitsyn, 1973

[xx] Cf. SM Balabanov, 1927

[xxx] Such gifts were particularly appreciated by the tsarina and the tsar, as Rasputin, with his passes and prayers, was managing to overcome the accredited doctors in the treatment of hemophilia that tormented the only male child of the imperial couple.

[xxiii] A lecture given by Lenin to the Swiss socialists, in Zurich, in January 1917, became known, when he expressed skepticism about a revolutionary solution in the short and medium terms. The revolution exploded less than two months later…Cf. D. Aarão Reis, 2017b

[xxiii] In this article, we will use the calendar then in force in Russia, the so-called Julian calendar. There was a gap of 13 days between this and the Gregorian calendar, used in Europe, its colonies and in the Americas.

[xxv]The City of St. Petersburg had its name changed to Petrograd, a change made in 1914 to comfort Russian nationalist sentiments.

[xxiv] February 23 in the Julian calendar corresponded to March 8 in the Gregorian calendar, International Women's Day.

[xxv] Cf. D. Aarão Reis, 2017a; N. Faulkner, 2017, M. Ferro, 1997 and 2011. For period testimonies, cf. NN Sukhanov, 1962 б S. Alekseev (ed.), 1925 and AG Shliapnikov,1925.

[xxviii] For chronological references, cf. N. Avdeev, 1923 and FA Golder, 1927

[xxviii] Cf. N. Werth, 1999 and WH Chamberlin, 1965

[xxix] See C. Ingerflom, 2010

[xxx] It should be noted that, for the election of the Imperial Duma, despite the inequalities imposed by the electoral census, the creation of worker and peasant districts, the so-called “curias”, allowed the electoral expression of workers' and popular parties, such as the social-democratic party, the revolutionary socialist party, among others.

[xxxii] See M. Ferro, 1967/1997

[xxxi] The best descriptive study of this process is carried out by O. Anweiler, already mentioned.

[xxxii] The formulation of the concept of dual power (Provisional Government X Petrograd Soviet), pioneered by L. Trotsky (L. Trotsky, 1978), and incorporated by a large part of historiography, would render “invisible” the effective existence of the multiple powers to which I referred.

[xxxv] For the national question, cf. RG Suny and L. Zakharova, D. Arel and J. Cadiot (eds.), 2010

[xxxiv] This was the position of the Octobrists and moderate liberals. Cf. P. Miliukov, 1978

[xxxiv] Poland's right to independence was recognized immediately, but it had little practical impact, as the territory of Russian Poland was occupied by German troops.

[xxxviii] For the Mensheviks, cf. Z. Galili, 1989, I. Getzler, 1967 and LH Haimson, 1974; for the socialist-revolutionaries, cf. J. Baynac, 1979, M. Hildermeier, 2000.

[xxxviii] For labor movements cf. D. Koenker, 1981; D. Koenker and WG Rosenberg 1989; A. Rabinovitch, 1968 and 2004; AS Smith, 1983

[xxxix] Peasant popular organizations called themselves variously, and, in many cases, the traditional assemblies, existing within the framework of the peasant community, assumed the direction of demands and social movements. Cf. TA Remezova, 1950

[xl] For peasant movements, cf. N. Werth, 1999 and DJ Raleigh, 1986 and 2001. M. Gorky would criticize and lament the violence unleashed by peasants and workers, characterizing it as “Asian”, as if Europeans were not capable of the worst violence committed in Europe itself and all around the world. Cf. M. Gorky, 1922.

[xi] For non-Russian nations, cf. note 34

[xliii]M. Ferro highlighted the importance of this document, cf. M. Ferro, 1967 49 Приказ/Prikaz means in Russian: Order of Service.

[xiii] For economic data, cf. A. Nine, 1990

[xiv] Within the Socialist Revolutionary/SR party, criticism of the moderation of its main leaders grew. Thus, currents were formed that would organize, in practice, another party, the left-wing SRs. They would claim the revolutionary tradition of the 2006th century, abandoned in practice by the moderate SRs. For the nineteenth-century revolutionary tradition, cf. D. Aarão Reis, 1988; I. Berlin, XNUMX and F.

Venturi, 1972

[xlv] From the perspective of the best social history, these currents appear as expressions of social movements, much more than as their creators or organizers. For a classic work on this point, cf. A. Rabinovitch, note 38. For anarchists, cf. P. Avrich, 1967, M. Brinton, 1975 and Volin, 1969; for leftist revolutionary socialists, cf. OH Radkey's, 1958 and 1973.

[xlv] In Russian, between нижный и верхий. The latter were also called буржуй, the burghers.

[xlv] Cf. note 20.

[xlviii] Such protests were overcome on the grounds that it was essential to incorporate all companies and all soldiers into the Soviet movement. Cf. O. Anweiler, 1974

[xlix] It was then that, simultaneously, the Winter Palace, the seat and center of the Provisional Government, was taken and the Second Congress of Soviets opened, which immediately, in its first session, approved the transfer of all power to the Soviets and the decree on peace. In a second session, which opened on the night of the 26th of October and lasted until the early morning of the 27th, the decree on land and the constitution of the new revolutionary government, the Council of People's Commissars/CCP, were approved.

[l] Among other works, M. Lewin, 1995 and 2007; A. Rabinovitch, 1968 and 2004 and R. Suny, 1972 and 1994.

[li] Cf. R. Pipes, 1995 and L. Shapiro, 1965

[liiii] Cf. the works of A. Rabinovitch, 1968 and 2004 and Marc Ferro, 1967/1997 and 2001

[iii] Cf. the minutes of the meetings of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, of October 10 and 16, 1917, when the decision was adopted to put the insurrection as an immediate task.

[book] For the minutes of meetings of the CC of the Bolshevik Party on October 10 and 16, 1917, cf. Lenin, V.. Complete Works, Vol. 26, pp. 192-193 and 195-197, respectively.

[lv] See К. Ryabinski, 1926

[lv] It is important to note that the new revolutionary government assumed the title of “provisional”, referring all its decisions to the Constituent Assembly, already convened for the following November 12th. Cf. Oh Radkey, 1950

[lviii]In the decree on peace, the right of peoples to self-determination would be emphasized once more. 66 For the Second Congress of Soviets, cf. V. Lenin, OC, vol. 26, pp 265-269 and more A. Rabinovitch, 2004, in addition to testimonies from the time, such as the classic by J. Reed, 2017. In all revolutionary decrees the mention of their “provisional” character was recorded, awaiting approval. confirmation by the Constituent Assembly.

[lviii] Cf. A. Rabinovitch, 2004 and E. Mawdsley, 1987. 68 See O. Radkey, 1950

[lix] Cf. IN Liubimov, 1930 and A. Rabinovitch, 2007

[lx] See P. Avrich, 1967

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