Leon Trotsky on the July Days (1930)

This extract from Leon Trotsky’s history of the Russian Revolution, published in 1930, describes the fate of the Bolshevik party during the ‘July Days’ of 1917:

“On June 4th, a declaration that I had submitted concerning Kerensky’s preparation for an offensive at the front was read by the Bolshevik faction at the congress of the Soviets. We had pointed out that the offensive… threatened the very existence of the army. But the Provisional government was growing intoxicated with its own speechifying. The ministers thought of the masses of soldiers, stirred to their very depths by the revolution, as so much soft clay to be moulded as they pleased.

Kerensky toured the front, adjured and threatened the troops, kneeled, kissed the earth – in a word, downed it in every possible way, while he failed to answer any of the questions tormenting the soldiers. He had deceived himself by his cheap effects and, assured of the support of the congress of the Soviets, ordered the offensive. When the calamity that the Bolsheviks had warned against came, the Bolsheviks were made the scapegoats. They were hounded furiously. The reactionaries, shielded by the Kadet party, pressed in from all sides, demanding our heads.

The faith of the masses in the Provisional government was hopelessly undermined. At this second stage of the revolution, Petrograd was again too far in the van. In the July days, this vanguard openly clashed with Kerensky’s government. It was not yet an uprising, only a reconnaissance that went deep. But it had already become obvious in the July encounter that Kerensky had no “democratic” army behind him; that the forces supporting him against us were those of a counter-revolution.

During the session in the Tauride Palace on July 3rd, I learned of the demonstration of the machine-gun regiment and its appeal to other troops and to factory-workers. The news came as a surprise to me. The demonstration had been spontaneous, at the initiative of the masses, but next day it went farther, now with the participation of our party. The Tauride Palace was overrun by the people. They had only one slogan: “Power to the Soviets.”

In front of the palace, a suspicious-booking group of men who had kept aloof from the crowd seized the minister of agriculture, Chernov, and put him in an automobile. The crowd watched indifferently; at any rate, their sympathy was not with him… But a Bolshevik, Raskolnikov, a lieutenant in the Baltic navy who had brought the Kronstadt sailors to the demonstration, excitedly insisted on releasing Chernov at once, to prevent people from saying that he had been arrested by the Kronstadt men…

Delegation after delegation demanded, in the name of the demonstrators, that the [Soviet] Executive Committee take the power. Chiedze, Tzereteli, Dan, and Gotz were sitting in the presidium like statues. They did not answer the delegations, and looked blankly off into space or exchanged perturbed and cryptic glances. Bolsheviks spoke one after another in support of the delegations of workers and soldiers. The members of the presidium were silent. They were waiting – but for what?

Hours passed in this way. Then, in the middle of the night, the halls of the palace resounded suddenly with the triumphant blare of trumpets… [Trotsky describes the arrival of a regiment from Volyn, loyal to the Soviet, as the catalyst for this.]

Now the whole setting changed immediately. The delegations were driven out; Bolsheviks were not allowed to speak. The leaders of the democracy were wreaking on us their vengeance for their fear of the masses. Speeches from the platform of the Executive Committee told of an armed mutiny suppressed by the loyal troops of the revolution. The Bolsheviks were declared a counter-revolutionary party. The arrival of one Volyn regiment had done all this. Three and a half months later, the same regiment co-operated wholeheartedly in the overthrow of Kerensky’s government.

On the morning of the fifth I met Lenin. The offensive by the masses had been beaten off. “Now they will shoot us down, one by one,” said Lenin. “This is the right time for them.” But he overestimated the opponent – not his venom, but his courage and ability to act. They did not shoot us down one by one, although they were not far from it. Bolsheviks were being beaten down in the streets and killed. Military students sacked the Kseshinskaya palace and the printing-works of the Pravda. The whole street in front of the works was littered with manuscripts, and among those destroyed was my pamphlet To the Slanderers. The deep reconnaissance of July had been transformed into a one-sided battle. The enemy were easily victorious, because we did not fight.

The party was paying dearly for it. Lenin and Zinoviev were in hiding. General arrests, followed by beatings, were the order of the day. Cossacks and military students confiscated the money of those arrested, on the grounds that it was “German money.” Many of our sympathisers and half-friends turned their backs on us. In the Tauride Palace, we were proclaimed counter-revolutionists and were actually put outside the law.”