1917 was characterized by massive change within Russia. Two revolutions took place in this year: the February revolution and the October Revolution. The February Revolution was triggered by riots over food shortages and bread prices on International Women’s Day. The revolution resulted in Tsar Nicolas II’s abdication, which officially put an end to the Romanov dynasty. The October Revolution resulted in the Bolsheviks seizing power. However, this was not so easily accomplished. In July, between the two revolutions, a series of demonstrations called the “July Days” took place in Petrograd. The violent results of these demonstrations were used to discredit the Bolsheviks. Lenin fled to Finland in the aftermath, and other prominent leaders, including Trotsky, were arrested.
The July Days began on July 3, 1917. The protesters were predominantly made up of factory workers, sailors, and soldiers. The uprisings were fueled by frustrations with the government ministers and opposition to the ongoing war (J. Llewellyn et al). Most accounts suggest that the demonstrations were spontaneous. Many of the demonstrators were angry that the Soviets had not yet taken power (Freeze, 286). Neither Bolshevik nor Soviet leaders were willing to lead a seizure of power during the time of the uprisings. The Provisional government was able to quell the rebellion with their loyal troops. The above image shows protesters scattering after the Provisional Government’s troops opened fire.
Nikolai Sukhanov, a Menshevik, recorded his account of the July Days in his book The Russian Revolution, 1917: A Personal Record. Sukhanov compares the disorder in the city to the chaos of the February revolution. Sukhanov remarks that while the workers of Petrograd were more organized than they were in February, the demonstrations lacked a greater degree of “consciousness, discipline, or order.” Sukhanov also discusses Lenin’s indecisiveness during the July Days. While reading the account, it seems that the outcome could have turned out differently had Lenin taken a stronger leadership role. While discussing Lenin’s encounter with the demonstrators from Kronstadt, Sukhanov says: “He didn’t demand any concrete action from the impressive force standing in front of him; he didn’t even call on his audience to continue the street demonstrations-even though that audience had just proved its readiness for battle by the troublesome journey from Kronstadt to Petersburg.” However, others suggest that Lenin believed that unplanned uprisings were likely to fail (J. Llewellyn et al). Sukanov ends his account of the July Days by expressing admiration for the frustration and passion exhibited by the proletariat during the demonstrations.
The Provisional Government was able to suppress the demonstrations, but they could not eliminate the general lack of confidence in their ability to solve the mounting problems within Russia (Freeze, 286). However, the government was able to blame the disorder on the Bolsheviks for some time, which allowed them to restore the perception of order and authority (Freeze, 286). For instance, in a report by the public prosecutor from July 22, 1917, denies that the July uprisings were spontaneous. Instead the prosecutor claims that the demonstrations were orchestrated by Bolshevik leaders. The report also suggests that Lenin and other leaders were German spies, and published anti-war propaganda to aid the Germans in the war.
The public prosecutor’s report hurt the Bolshevik’s image. After the July Days, it seemed that the Bolsheviks were finished. However, this could only buy the government time, as it was still incapable of fixing the ever-present issues within Russia. In a matter of three months the Bolsheviks would be able to seize power in the legendary October Revolution.
K. Bulla: Petrograd, July 4 1917 (1917). Retrieved from: 17 Moments in Soviet History
Freeze, G. L. (2009). Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press. P. 286.
J. Llewellyn et al, “The July days” at Alpha History, http://alphahistory.com/russianrevolution/july-days/, 2014, accessed [2/11/18].
N. N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution, 1917: A Personal Record (London: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 444-446. Retrieved from: 17 Moments in Soviet History
Robert Paul Browder and Alexander F. Kerensky, eds., The Russian Provisional Government, 1917: Documents (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1961), pp. 1373-76. Retrieved from: 17 Moments in Soviet History