‘No less than 800,000 people filed past the grave with bands and banners’

On the 23rd of March [April 5/6 on the modern calendar] the United States entered the war. On that day Petrograd was burying the victims of the February revolution.

The funeral procession – in its mood a procession triumphant with the joy of life – was a mighty concluding chord in the symphony of the five days. Everybody went to the funeral: both those who had fought side by side with the victims, and those who had held them back from battle, very likely also those who killed them – and above all, those who had stood aside from the fighting. Along with workers, soldiers, and the small city people here were students, ministers, ambassadors, the solid bourgeois, journalists, orators, leaders be of all the parties.

The red coffins carried on the shoulders of workers and soldiers streamed in from the workers’ districts to Mars Field. When the coffins were lowered into the grave there sounded from Peter and Paul fortress the first funeral salute, startling the innumerable masses of the people. That cannon had a new sound: our cannon, our salute.

The Vyborg section carried fifty-one red coffins. That was only a part of the victims it was proud of. In the procession of the Vyborg workers, the most compact of all, numerous Bolshevik banners were to be seen, but they floated peacefully beside other banners.

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Mourners at the funeral for the fallen of the February Revolution.

On Mars Field itself there stood only the members of the government, of the Soviet, and the State Duma – already dead but stubbornly evading its own funeral.

All day long no less than 800,000 people filed past the grave with bands and banners. And although, according to preliminary reckonings by the highest military authorities, a human mass of that size could not possibly pass a given point without the most appalling chaos and fatal whirlpools, nevertheless the demonstration was carried out in complete order – a thing to be observed generally in revolutionary processions, dominated as they are by a satisfying consciousness of a great deed achieved, combined with a hope that everything will grow better and better in the future. It was only this feeling that kept order, for organisation was still weak, inexperienced and unconfident of itself.

The very fact of the funeral was, it would seem, a sufficient refutation of the myth of a bloodless revolution. But nevertheless the mood prevailing at the funeral recreated, to some extent the atmosphere of those first days when the legend was born.

L.D. Trotsky, “The April Days,” The History of the Russian Revolution

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