a century ago in Russia

June 30, 1917: The February Revolution is over, leaving two uneasily complementary governments in place: the Duma that had been assembled under the Czar, and the Petrograd Soviet, elected by workers, soldiers, and peasants. Amid the chaos, while any future still seems possible for Russia, the people of the vast empire have become avid participants in politics. Beyond the networks of telegraphs and newspapers, news that a revolution is underway spreads slowly with human travelers, and no doubt much is lost in translation. By March, China Miéville writes:

Villagers [had] gathered into assemblies to begin, for the first time, considering not only local issues, but also national ones: the war, the Church, the economy. Ad hoc local committees sprang up in dizzying variety. A chaos of decentralization. Some villages, towns, and territories unconvincingly announced their independence. Very soon, countless soviets [elected councils] existed in the country, and their numbers were growing.”

We know what happens next, where it all leads. That sense of inevitably is our perspective. For the citizens–who, until months earlier, had been subjects–gathering in March-June 1917 to debate the war, the Church, and the economy, the world seem theirs to remake. But the rift between the Bolsheviks and the other revolutionary factions is widening. The June offensive on the Eastern Front is a disaster, and Lenin’s anti-war stance is drawing support to his party. Bolshevik organizers are working at the front, in factories, and in villages, and are rapidly gaining political skills and experience. The Petrograd Soviet calls a mass march in June to demonstrate it has workers’ support, but the mass turnout is overwhelmingly Bolshevik. The bloody month of July lies ahead. Of all the paths that had been possible in March 1917, one outcome is becoming overwhelmingly probable on this day a century ago.

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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