‘For a general strike against autocracy’
Culmination of the Russian February Revolution
“1917: The View from the Streets”: Leaflets of the Russian revolution – #6.
100 years ago today, on March 12 (February 27) 1917, Socialists in Petrograd distributed the following appeal for an insurrectional general strike to bring down tsarism. That day, the culmination of the Russian February revolution, witnessed the crumbling of tsarist power.
The day after the demonstration by women workers on March 8 (February 23), more than 200,000 striking workers marched into the center of Petrograd. Large numbers of students and middle-class professionals joined the demonstrations on March 10 (February 25 ). Soldiers at first hesitated to forcefully remove demonstrators, but on March 11 (February 26), some soldiers followed orders to shoot at demonstrators, killing hundreds.
As the senior member of the Russian Bureau of the Bolshevik Central Committee in Petrograd, Alexander Shlyapnikov encouraged workers to win soldiers over to their side during the first days of the February Revolution, but felt that armed struggle by socialists against the government was premature. Preferring direct armed action, the Bolshevik Vyborg District Committee scorned Shlyapnikov’s position as denying the revolutionary character of the ongoing demonstrations.
The Petersburg Committee of the RSDRP called for Bolsheviks to take practical measures to organize and accelerate the pace of revolutionary developments. Yet the Interdistrict Committee (Mezhrayonka) of the RSDRP may have had the most influence upon radical socialist workers and soldiers during the February Revolution. It encouraged workers to prolong their strike and called upon soldiers to defend workers against the tsarist police’s attacks.
The mutiny of the Volynsky regiment on March 12 (February 27 ) set an example for other soldiers to join the revolution. The February Revolution culminated that day, as Duma liberals formed a committee that would become the nucleus of the Provisional Government, tsarist ministers resigned, and socialists formed the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.
The following proclamation of the Petersburg Interdistrict Committee was distributed on March 12 (February 27), 1917.
Selection, translation, and annotation by Barbara Allen. See below for explanation of Russian dates.
Proletarians of all countries, unite!
Comrade workers! They are shooting us down! Workers’ blood has been spilled on the streets of Petrograd! Hungry people rose to struggle, but the tsar made them eat lead. Just as on January 9, 1905, when the servants of the autocracy shot down workers who went to the tsar for justice and mercy, on February 25-26 they shot down hungry workers who went onto the streets to protest hunger and the reigning arbitrariness.
Comrades! They have committed a terrible, senseless, monstrous crime. During these days of the people’s rage and also of merciless retribution against them, we were helpless against the policemen and handfuls of soldiers who were loyal to the tsar. We could not fight back against their blows or take a life for a life. We were unarmed. Our fists were clenched in impotent rage. They beat us with their swords, their horses trampled us, and the defenseless people fled with hatred in their hearts toward the enemy.
Comrades! During these difficult days, the working class saw more clearly than ever before that without strong, powerful, proletarian organizations, fighting detachments, and without the army’s support for the people, we won’t break the enemy and destroy autocracy. Likewise, we learned during these days that our brothers the soldiers do not always obey orders to carry out fratricide. We hail the Cossacks who chased the mounted police from Znamenskaya Square. We hail and give fraternal thanks to the soldiers of the Pavlovsky Regiment who shot at a detachment of mounted police near the Cathedral of Resurrection.
Soldiers are beginning to see the light. They understand that their enemy is not the starving, oppressed people, but the tsarist autocracy. During these difficult days for workers, only part of the soldiers, students, and citizens supported us. The State Duma, which is not truly representative of the people, is criminally silent. While the stones cry out for vengeance, the State Duma is deaf and blind to the people’s woe.
Comrades! Not only do they shoot us down, but they also cast us onto the streets to suffer hunger and destitution. Putilov and Trubochnyi factories have been shut down. Fifty thousand workers have been deprived of a morsel of bread!
Comrades! Whoever still has a conscience and is neither a slave nor a pitiful traitor to the workers’ cause will hear our appeal and will join us to unanimously protest merciless international war.
Comrades! Bring activity in the city to a standstill. Let all the factories, mills, workshops, and printing presses come to a halt. Let the electricity go out. We summon you to a general strike of protest, to strike a blow against the despotic autocracy. We, the Social Democratic Bolsheviks and Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries, summon the proletariat of Petersburg and of all Russia to organize and feverishly mobilize our forces.
Comrades! Organize underground strike committees in the mills and factories and link districts to one another. Collect funds for underground printing presses and for weapons. Get ready, comrades! The hour of decisive struggle approaches. We will not fear General [S.S.] Khabalov [Commander of the Petrograd Military District], who dares to call us traitors. It is not we workers who betray the people, but those traitors and murderers the [V.A.] Sukhomlinovs [War Minister] and the Khabalovs. The State Duma and the liberals betray the people.
Comrades! Khabalov orders us to go back to work on the 28th, but we summon you to struggle and to a general strike!
Be brave! All for one and one for all!
Long live the general political strike of protest!
Always remember our fallen brothers!
Down with war!
Down with autocracy!
Long live revolution!
Long live the Provisional Revolutionary Government!
Long live the Constituent Assembly!
Long live a democratic republic!
Long live the international solidarity of the proletariat!
Petersburg Interdistrict Committee of the RSDRP
Published in A.G. Shlyapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 1, 1923, pp. 337-338. On Shlyapnikov’s role in the 1917 events, see Barbara C. Allen, Alexander Shlyapnikov 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik, Chicago: Haymarket Books 2016.
Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, The February Revolution: Petrograd, 1917, University of Washington Press, 1981, pp. 258-261.
S.A. Smith, Russia in Revolution: An Empire in Crisis, 1890 to 1928, Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 101-102.
Rex A. Wade, The Russian Revolution, 1917, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 29-45.
Other leaflets in the “1917: The view from the streets” series
- “Down with the war; long live the revolution!” (December 1916, Bolshevik-influenced students)
- “The day of people’s wrath is near!” (c. January 20  1917, Mezhrayonka)
- “Only a provisional government can bring freedom and peace” (February 6 [January 24] 1917, Mensheviks)
- “For a provisional revolutionary government of workers and poor peasants” (February 15 , 1917, Bolsheviks)
- “Women’s Day in Russia 1917: A day to prepare for victory” (March 6 [February 21] 1917)
A note on Russian dates
The Julian calendar used by Russia in 1917 ran 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that is in general use today. In the “View from the Streets” series, centennial dates are reckoned by the Gregorian calendar; dates are given with the Gregorian (“New Style”) date first, followed by the Julian date in parentheses.
Readers of “1917: View from the Streets” may be interested in a much more elaborate chronicle “1917 Free History” reflecting mainly the reaction of privileged social layers. The project aims to enable readers to:
“…find out about the history of 1917 from those who lived during this defining moment of twentieth century history. The project consists entirely of primary sources…. All the texts used are taken from genuine documents written by historical figures: letters, memoirs, diaries and other documents of the period.”