Leon Trotsky


The July Uprising

(July 1917)

Blood has flowed in the streets of Petrograd. A tragic chapter has been added to the Russian Revolution. Who is to blame? “The Bolsheviks,” says the man in the street, repeating what his newspapers tell him. The sum total of these tragic happenings is exhausted, as far as the bourgeoisie and the time-serving politicians are concerned, in the words: Arrest the ringleaders and disarm the masses. And the object of this action is to establish “revolutionary order”. The Social-Revolutionists and the Mensheviks, in arresting and disarming the Bolsheviks, are prepared to establish “order”. There is only one question: What kind of order, and for whom?

The Revolution aroused great hopes in the masses. Among the masses of Petrograd, who played a leading role in the Revolution, these hopes and expectations were cherished with exceptional earnestness. It was the task of the Social-Democratic Party to transform these hopes and expectations into clearly-defined political programmes to direct the revolutionary impatience of the masses in the channel of a planful political action. The Revolution was brought face to face with the question of state power. We, as well as the Bolshevik organization, stood for a handing over of all power to the Central Committee of the Councils of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Delegates. The upper classes, and among them we must include the Social-Revolutionists and the Mensheviks, exhorted the masses to support the Miliukov-Guchkov government. Up to the last moment, that is, up to the time when these more distinctly imperialist figures of the first Provisional Government resigned, both the above-mentioned parties were firmly united with the government all along the line. Only after the reconstruction of the government did the masses learn from their own newspapers that they had not been told the whole truth, that they had been deceived. They were then told they must trust the new “coalition” government. The revolutionary Social Democracy predicted that the new government would not differ essentially from the old, that it would not make any concessions to the Revolution and would again betray the hopes of the masses. And so it came to pass. After two months of a policy of weakness, of demands for confidence, of verbose exhortations, the government’s position of beclouding the issues could no longer be concealed. It became clear that the masses had once more – and this time more cruelly than ever before – been deceived.

The impatience and the mistrust of the great body of workers and soldiers in Petrograd was increasing, not day by day, but hour by hour. These feelings, fed by the prolonged war, so hopeless for all participating in it, by economic disorganization, by an invisible setting up of a general cessation of the most important branches of production, found their immediate political expression in the slogan: “All Power to the Soviets!” The retirement of the Cadets and the definite proof of the internal bankruptcy of the Provisional Government convinced the masses still more thoroughly that they were in the right as opposed to the official leaders of the Soviets. The vacillations of the Social-Revolutionists and the Mensheviks simply added oil to the flames. The demands, almost persecution, addressed to the Petrograd garrison, requiring them to inaugurate an offensive, had a similar effect. An explosion became inevitable.

All parties, including the Bolsheviks, took every step to prevent the masses from making the demonstration of July 16; but the masses did demonstrate, and with weapons in their hands, moreover. All the agitators, all the district representatives declared on the evening of July 16 that the July 17 demonstration, since the question of power remained unsettled, was bound to take place, and that no measures could hold back the people. That is the only reason why the Bolshevik Party, and with it our organization, decided not to stand aloof and wash its hands of the consequences, but to do everything in its power to change the July 17 affair into a peaceful mass demonstration. No other was the meaning of the July 17 appeal. It was, of course, clear, in view of the certain intervention of counter-revolutionary gangs, that bloody conflicts would arise. It would have been possible, it is true, to deprive the masses of any political guidance, to decapitate them politically, as it were, and, by refusing to direct them, to leave them to their fate. But we, being the Workers’ Party, neither could nor would follow Pilate’s tactics: we decided to join in with the masses and to stick to them, in order to introduce into their elemental turmoil the greatest measure of organization attainable under the circumstances, and thus to reduce to a minimum the number of probable victims. The facts are well known. Blood has been spilled. And now the “influential” press of the bourgeoisie, and other newspapers serving the bourgeoisie, are attempting to put on our shoulders the entire burden of responsibility for the consequences – for the poverty, the exhaustion, the disaffection and the rebelliousness of the masses. To accomplish this end, to complete this labour of counter-revolutionary mobilization against the party of the proletariat, there issue forth rascals of anonymous, semi-anonymous or publicly branded varieties, who circulate accusations of bribery: blood has flowed because of the Bolsheviks, and the Bolsheviks were acting under the orders of Wilhelm.

We are at present passing through days of trial. The steadfastness of the masses, their self-control, the fidelity of their “friends”, all these things are being put to the acid-test. We are also being subjected to this test, and we shall emerge from it more strengthened, more united, than from any previous trial. Life is with us and fighting for us. The new reconstruction of power, dictated by an inescapable situation, and by the miserable half-heartedness of the ruling parties, will change nothing and will solve nothing. We must have a radical change of the whole system. We need revolutionary power.

The Tseretelli-Kerensky policy is directly intended to disarm and weaken the left wing of the Revolution. If, with the aid of these methods, they succeed in establishing “order”, they will be the first – after us, of course – to fall victims of this “order”. But they will not succeed. The contradiction is too profound, the problems are too enormous to be disposed of by mere police measures.

After the days of trial will come the days of progress and victory.

July 1917

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Last updated on: 9.12.2006