Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies


established on Feb. 27 (Mar. 12), 1917. The first session of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies was held on the evening of that day in the Tauride Palace.

The leader of the Menshevik faction in the State Duma, N. S. Chkheidze, was elected chairman of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd soviet, and Alexander F. Kerensky (a member of the Socialist Revolutionary [SR] Party) and the Menshevik M. I. Skobelev were elected colleagues of the chairman (deputy chairmen). A. G. Shliapnikov and P. A. Zalutskii represented the Bolsheviks on the 15-member Executive Committee. On March 1 (14), the soldiers and sailors elected ten representativesto the committee, including two Bolsheviks (A. N. Paderin and A. D. Sadovskii). The representatives of the workers merged with the representatives of the soldiers, forming a single, united soviet.

Under pressure from the broad masses, the Petrograd soviet began to function as a body of revolutionary power, a body of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants. Its commissars were sent to every district in the city to organize local bodies of the people’s power. In response to a Bolshevik proposal, measures were taken to arm the workers, and orders were given to organize detachments of the workers’ militia at the factories. The Petrograd soviet decreed that the troops of the revolutionary garrison should not be withdrawn from Petrograd and issued Order No. 1, which established elected soldiers’ and sailors’ committees in the army and navy and made the Petrograd garrison politically subordinate to the soviet. Newspapers published by the Black Hundreds were banned. The first issue of the newspaper Izvestiia, the organ of the Petrograd soviet, appeared on February 28 (March 13). On March 10 (23) the Petrograd soviet concluded an agreement with the Petrograd Association of Factory Owners regarding the introduction of the eight-hour day and the organization of factory committees.

The predominance of SR’s and Mensheviks in the Petrograd soviet limited its revolutionary potential. The SR’s and Mensheviks owed their dominant position to changes in the composition of the Petrograd proletariat during World War I: it had become more heterogeneous in its composition, and its stable proletarian nucleus had grown smaller. Moreover, the petit bourgeois strata, which had become active to an unprecedented degree, influenced the conscious proletariat by their numbers as well as by their ideology. The electoral system of the Petrograd soviet also strengthened the influence of the petit bourgeois parties. The soldiers, most of whom were recently from the peasantry, enjoyed certain electoral advantages. There were about as many proletarians as there were soldiers in the garrison stationed in the capital and its environs. The soldiers, however, were represented by about 2,000 deputies, and the workers by only 800. On the night of March 1(14) and during the early hours of March 2(15), the bourgeois Provisional Government was created by an agreement between the Menshevik-SR leaders of the Petrograd soviet and the Provisional Committee of the State Duma of 1917. By this act, the Petrograd soviet in effect surrendered power to the bourgeoisie.

On March 9 (22) the Bolshevik faction in the Petrograd soviet (about 40 members) became formally organized. In view of the domination of the soviet by the petit bourgeois parties, the Central Committee of the RSDLP (Bolshevik) called on the Petrograd party organizations to fight for new elections to the soviet as soon as possible. On May 7 (20), Pravda published the draft platform of the Bolshevik candidates. The workers in many factories supported the Bolshevik platform. Even partial elections noticeably altered the balance of forces in the Petrograd soviet. By the beginning of July the Bolshevik faction had 400 members. The Bolsheviks won a plurality in the workers’ section of the soviet.

After the defeat of Kornilov there was a radical change in the political composition of the Petrograd soviet. Under the impact of the revolutionary upsurge, a new phase—one of large-scale Bolshevization—began in all the soviets. On August 31 (September 13) a resolution of the Central Committee of the RSDLP(B), entitled On Power, was approved by a majority at a plenary session of the Petrograd soviet. On September 5(18) the Moscow soviet adopted the same resolutions. In mid-September Lenin declared: “The Bolsheviks, having obtained a majority in the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies of both capitals, can and must take state power into their own hands” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 34, p. 239). New elections to the Executive Committee of the Petrograd soviet were held on September 25 (October 8). Most of the members of the Presidium elected by the new soviet were Bolsheviks.

On October 12 (25) the Executive Committee passed the Statute on the Military Revolutionary Committee, which became the legal headquarters for the preparation of the armed insurrection (seePETROGRAD MILITARY REVOLUTIONARY COMMITTEE). On October 22 (November 4), Petrograd Soviet Day was celebrated with meetings and rallies at all the factories in the city. Participants demanded the transfer of power to the soviets. On October 25 (November 7) at 2:35 A.M. a special session of the Petrograd soviet opened in the assembly hall at the Smol’ny Institute. Lenin pronounced the historic words: “Comrades! The workers’ and peasants’ revolution, about the necessity of which the Bolsheviks have always spoken, has been accomplished” (ibid., vol. 35, p. 2).

On November 27 (December 10) a new Executive Committee made up of 34 Bolsheviks and ten Left SR’s was confirmed by a plenum of the Petrograd soviet. In April 1918 the Petrograd soviet was renamed the Soviet of Workers’ and Red Army Deputies, and in August 1920, the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’, Peasants’, and Red Army Deputies.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.