‘Now we shall have an open and honest review of ‘revolutionary forces’

At the same session of the congress which condemned the Bolsheviks in their absence, a representative of the Mensheviks unexpectedly moved to appoint for the following Sunday, the 18th of June [July 1 on the modern calendar], a manifestation of workers and soldiers in Petrograd and other important cities, in order to demonstrate to the enemy the unity and strength of the democracy. The motion was carried, although not without bewilderment. Something over a month later Miliukov fairly well explained this unexpected turn on the part of the Compromisers: “In delivering Kadet speeches at the congress of the soviets, in disorganizing the armed demonstration of June 10 … the minister-socialists felt that they had gone too far in our direction, that the ground was slipping under their feet. They got frightened and backed away abruptly toward the Bolsheviks.” The decision to hold a demonstration on June 18 was, of course not a step in the direction of the Bolsheviks, but an attempt to turn toward the masses as against the Bolsheviks. Their nocturnal experience with the workers and soldiers bad caused a certain amount of trepidation among the heads of the soviets. Thus, for instance, in direct opposition to what had been in mind at the beginning of the congress, they hastily produced in the name of the government a resolution calling for the abolition of the State Duma and the summoning of a Constituent Assembly for the 30th of September. The slogans of the demonstration were chosen with this same idea of not causing any irritation to the masses: “Universal Peace,” “Immediate Convocation of a Constituent Assembly,” “Democratic Republic.” Not a word either about the offensive or the coalition. Lenin asked in Pravda: “And what has become of ’Complete Confidence to the Provisional Government,’ gentlemen? . . Why does your tongue stick in your throat?” This irony was accurately to the point: the Compromisers did not dare demand of the masses confidence in that government of which they themselves were members.

The Soviet delegates, having a second time made the rounds of the workers’ districts and the barracks, gave wholly encouraging reports on the eve of the demonstration to the Executive Committee. Tseretelli, to whom these communications restored his equilibrium and inclination towards complacent sermonizing, addressed some remarks to the Bolsheviks:

“Now we shall have an open and honest review of the revolutionary forces … Now we shall see whom the majority is following, you or us.” The Bolsheviks had accepted the challenge even before it was so incautiously formulated. “We shall join the demonstration on the 18th,” wrote Pravda, “in order to struggle for those aims for which we had intended to demonstrate on the 10th.”

The line of march – evidently in memory of the funeral procession of three months before, which had been, at least superficially, a gigantic manifestation of the unity of the democracy – again led to Mars Field and the grave of the February martyrs. But aside from the line of march nothing whatever was reminiscent of those earlier days. About 400,000 people paraded, considerably less than at the funeral: absent from the Soviet demonstration were not only the bourgeoisie with whom the soviets were in coalition, but also the radical intelligentsia, which had occupied so prominent a place in the former parades of the democracy. Few but the factories and barracks marched.

The delegates of the congress, assembled on Mars Field, read and counted the placards. The first Bolshevik slogans were met half-laughingly – Tseretelli had so confidently thrown down his challenge the day before. But these same slogans were repeated again and again. “Down with the Ten Minister-Capitalists!” “Down with the Offensive” “All Power to the Soviets!” The ironical smiles froze, and then gradually disappeared. Bolshevik banners floated everywhere. The delegates stopped counting the uncomfortable totals. The triumph of the Bolsheviks was too obvious. “Here and there,” writes Sukhanov, “the chain of Bolshevik banners and columns would be broken by specifically Social Revolutionary or official Soviet slogans. But these were drowned in the mass. Soviet officialdom was recounting the next day ‘how fiercely here and there the crowd tore up banners bearing the slogan “Confidence to the Provisional Government.”’” There is obvious exaggeration in this. Only three small groups carried placards in honour of the Provisional Government: the circle of Plekhanov, a Cossack detachment, and a handful of Jewish intellectuals who belonged to the Bund. This threefold combination, which gave the impression with its variegated membership of a political curio, seemed to have set itself the task of publicly exhibiting the impotence of the régime. Under the hostile cries of the crowd the Plekhanovites and the Bund lowered their placards. The Cossacks were stubborn, and their banners were literally torn from them by the demonstrators, and destroyed. “The stream which had been flowing quietly along until then,” writes Izvestia, “turned into a veritable river at the flood, just at the point of overflowing its banks.” That was the Vyborg section, all under the banners of the Bolsheviks. “Down with the Ten Minister-Capitalists” One of the factories carried a placard: “The right to Life is Higher than the rights of Private Property.” This slogan had not been suggested by the party.

Dismayed provincials were looking everywhere for their leaders. The latter lowered their eyes or simply went into hiding. The Bolsheviks went after the provincials. Does this look like a gang of conspirators? The delegates agreed that it did not. “In Petrograd you are the power,” they conceded in a totally different tone from that in which they had spoken at the official sessions, “but not in the provinces, not at the front. Petrograd cannot go against the whole country.” That’s all right, answered the Bolsheviks, your turn will soon come – the same slogans will be raised.

“During this demonstration,” wrote the old man Plekhanov, “I stood on Mars Field beside Cheidze: I saw in his face that he was not deceiving himself in the least about the significance of the astonishing number of placards demanding the overthrow of the capitalist ministers. It was emphasized as though intentionally by the veritably imperious commands with which some of the Leninists addressed him as they passed by like people celebrating a holiday.” The Bolsheviks certainly had ground for a holiday feeling. “Judging by the placards and slogans of the demonstrators,” wrote Gorky’s paper, “the Sunday demonstration revealed the complete triumph of Bolshevism among the Petersburg proletariat.” It was a great victory, and moreover it was won on the arena and with the weapons chosen by the enemy. While sanctioning the offensive, recognizing the coalition, and condemning the Bolsheviks, the soviet congress had called the masses on its own initiative into the streets. They came with the announcement: We don’t want either offensive or coalition; we are for Bolshevism. Such was the political meaning of the demonstration. No wonder the papers of the Mensheviks, who had initiated the demonstration, asked themselves mournfully the next day: Who suggested that unhappy idea?

Of course not all the workers and soldiers in the capital took part in the demonstration, and not all the demonstrators were Bolsheviks. But by this time not one of them wanted a coalition. Those workers who still remained hostile to Bolshevism did not know what to oppose to it. Their hostility was thus converted into a watchful neutrality. Under the Bolshevik slogans marched no small number of Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries who had not yet broken with their party, but had already lost faith in its slogans.

The demonstration of June 18 made an enormous impression on its own participants. The masses saw that the Bolsheviks had become a power, and the vacillating were drawn to them. In Moscow, Kiev, Kharkov, Ekaterinoslav, and many other provincial towns the demonstrations revealed an immense growth of the influence of the Bolsheviks. Everywhere the same slogans were advanced, and they struck at the very heart of the February régime. It was impossible not to draw conclusions. It seemed as though the Compromisers had nowhere to go. But the offensive helped them at the very last moment. On the 19th of June, there was a patriotic demonstration on the Nevsky under the leadership of Kadets, and with a portrait of Kerensky. In the words of Miliukov, “It was so different from what happened on the same street the day before that there mingled with the feeling of triumph an involuntary feeling of uneasiness.” Legitimate feeling! But the Compromisers gave a sigh of relief. Their thoughts immediately soared above both demonstrations in the form of a democratic synthesis. Those people were fated to drain the cup of illusion and humiliation to the dregs.

In the April days two simultaneous demonstrations, one revolutionary and the other patriotic, had gone to meet each other, and their clash resulted in casualties. The hostile demonstrations of the 18th and 19th of June followed one after the other. There was no direct clash then. But a clash was not to be avoided. It had only been postponed for two weeks.

The anarchists, not knowing how else to show their independence, availed themselves of the demonstration of June 18 for an attack on the Vyborg prisons. The prisoners, a majority of them criminal, were liberated without a fight and without casualties – and not from one prison, but from several simultaneously. It seems obvious that the attack had not caught the administration unawares – that the administration had gladly gone halfway to meet actual and pretended anarchists. That whole enigmatical episode had nothing whatever to do with the demonstration. But the patriotic press linked them together. The Bolsheviks proposed to the congress of soviets a strict investigation of the manner in which 460 criminals had been let loose from various prisons. However, the Compromisers could not permit themselves this luxury: they were afraid they would run into men higher up in the administration and their own allies in a political bloc. Moreover, they had no desire to defend their own demonstration against malicious slanders.

The Minister of Justice, Pereverzev – who had disgraced himself a few days before in connection with the summer house of Durnovo – decided to have vengeance, and under the pretext of a search for escaped convicts made a new raid on the place. The anarchists resisted; one of them was killed, and the house wrecked. The workers of the Vyborg side, considering the house their own, sounded the alarm. Several factories quit work; the alarm spread to other sections and even to the barracks.

The last days of June pass in a continual commotion. A machine gun regiment prepares for an immediate attack on the Provisional Government. Workers from the striking factories make the rounds of the regiments calling them into the streets. Bearded peasants in soldiers’ coats, many of them grey-haired, pass in processions of protest along the pavements: these middle-aged peasants are demanding that they be discharged for work in the fields. The Bolsheviks are carrying on an agitation against going into the streets: The demonstration of the 18th has said all that can be said: in order to produce a change, demonstrating is not enough; and yet the hour of revolution has not yet struck. On the 22nd of June, the Bolshevik press appeals to the garrison: “Do not trust any summons to action in the Street delivered in the name of the Military Organisation.” Delegates are arriving from the front with complaints of violence and punishments. Threats to reorganize the unsubmissive regiments pour oil on the fire. “In many regiments the soldiers are sleeping with weapons in their hands,” says a declaration of the Bolsheviks to the Executive Committee. Patriotic demonstrations, often armed, lead to street fights. These are small discharges of the accumulated electricity. Neither side directly intends to attack: the reaction is too weak, the revolution is not yet fully confident of its power. But the streets of the town seem paved with explosive material. A battle hovers in the air. The Bolshevik press explains and restrains. The patriotic press gives away its fright with an un bridled baiting of Bolsheviks. On the 25th, Lenin writes: “This universal wild cry of spite and rage against the Bolsheviks is the common complaint of Kadets, Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks against their own flabbiness. They are in a majority. They are the government. They are all together in a bloc. And they see that nothing comes of it. What can they do but rage against the Bolsheviks?”

L.D. Trotsky, “The Soviet Congress and the June Demonstration,” The History of the Russian Revolution

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