A Soviet account of the February Revolution (1938)

Published in 1938, the History of the CPSU (Short Course) provides a Soviet account of the February Revolution in 1917:

“The Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries tried to direct the [growing] revolutionary movement into the channels of the liberal bourgeoisie. The Mensheviks proposed that a procession of workers to the State Duma be organised on February 14th, the day of its opening. But the working-class masses followed the Bolsheviks, and went, not to the Duma, but to a demonstration.

On February 18th 1917, a strike broke out at the Putilov Works in Petrograd. On February 22nd the workers of most of the big factories were on strike. On International Women’s Day, February 23rd, at the call of the Petrograd Bolshevik Committee, working women came out in the streets to demonstrate against starvation, war and tsardom. The Petrograd workers supported the demonstration of the working women by a city-wide strike movement. The political strike began to grow into a general political demonstration against the tsarist system. On February 24th the demonstration was resumed with even greater vigour. About 200,000 workers were already on strike…

The practical work of the Bolshevik Party at that time was directed 176 by the Bureau of the Central Committee of our Party which had its quarters in Petrograd and was headed by Comrade Molotov. On February 26th the Central Committee issued a manifesto calling for the continuation of the armed struggle against tsardom and the formation of a Provisional Revolutionary Government. On February 27th the troops in Petrograd refused to fire on the workers and began to line up with the people in revolt. The number of soldiers who had joined the revolt by the morning of February 27th was still no more than 10,000 but by the evening it already exceeded 60,000.

The workers and soldiers who had risen in revolt began to arrest tsarist ministers and generals and to free revolutionaries from jail. The released political prisoners joined the revolutionary struggle. In the streets, shots were still being exchanged with police and gendarmes posted with machine guns in the attics of houses. But the troops rapidly went over to the side of the workers, and this decided the fate of the tsarist autocracy. When the news of the victory of the revolution in Petrograd spread to other towns and to the front, the workers and soldiers everywhere began to depose the tsarist officials. The February bourgeois-democratic revolution had won.

The revolution was victorious because its vanguard was the working class which headed the movement of millions of peasants clad in soldiers’ uniform demanding “peace, bread and liberty.” It was the hegemony of the proletariat that determined the success of the revolution. “The revolution was made by the proletariat. The proletariat displayed heroism; it shed its blood; it swept along with it the broadest masses of the toiling and poor population,” wrote Lenin in the early days of the revolution.

Soviets arose in the very first days of the revolution. The victorious revolution rested on the support of the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. The workers and soldiers who rose in revolt created Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. The Revolution of 1905 had shown that the Soviets were organs of armed uprising and at the same time the embryo of a new, revolutionary power. The idea of Soviets lived in the minds of the working-class masses, and they put it into effect as soon as tsardom was overthrown, with this difference, however, that in 1905 it was Soviets only of Workers’ Deputies that were formed, whereas in February 1917, on the initiative of the Bolsheviks, there arose Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.

While the Bolsheviks were directly leading the struggle of the masses in the streets, the compromising parties, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, were seizing the seats in the Soviets and building up a majority there. This was partly facilitated by the fact that the majority of the leaders of the Bolshevik Party were in prison or exile (Lenin was in exile abroad and Stalin and Sverdlov in banishment in Siberia) while the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries were freely promenading the streets of Petrograd… The Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks had not the slightest intention of terminating the war, of securing peace… The Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik leaders of the Petrograd Soviet did their utmost to shelve the question of terminating the war, to shelve the question of peace, and to hand over the power to the bourgeoisie…

The task that confronted the Bolshevik Party was, by patient work of explanation, to open the eyes of the masses to the imperialist character of the Provisional Government, to expose the treachery of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks and to show that peace could not be secured unless the Provisional Government were replaced by a government of Soviets. And to this work, the Bolshevik Party addressed itself with the utmost energy.”