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Soviets of Workers' Deputies

 

Such broad-based solidarity created a unique atmosphere in which the ruling circles felt more and more isolated and under enormous pressure from public opinion. In August, in the face of the united opposition of most levels and sections of the population, the government faltered and promised to convene an elected national assembly with a consultative role. Such concession might have worked in January, but in August it was no longer enough. On 19 September Russian print workers went on strike and were soon joined by other workers in both capital cities. 

 
The October Strike in St Petersburg

On 7 October railway workers declared a strike crippling the government’s ability to dispatch troops to centers of unrest. Transport and commu-nications of all kinds came to a standstill, paralyzing the machinery of state. In a matter of days Russia was in the grip of the first general strike in its history.

The October Strike was a nationwide political strike which embraced all of Russia’s vitally important regions. Nearly two million people took part in it, including eight hundred thousand factory workers, seven hundred thousand railway workers and nearly five hundred thousand students, white-collar workers and intellectuals. The strikers were no longer prepared to accept petty concession from the government and employers. They demanded the convocation of a Constituent Assembly, political freedom, political amnesty and 8-hour working-day. But their paramount slogan, which was intoned and amplified by countless rallies and strikes, demanded nothing short of a revolution. ‘Down with autocracy!’ became the October Strike’s rallying-cry and the measure of the nation’s disaffection with the authorities.                                

During the October Strike, St Petersburg workers, drawing on the experience of the strike in Ivanovo-Voznesensk several weeks earlier, set up a Soviet of Workers’ Deputies to co-ordinate the strike action in the city. It quickly became the model of a new working-class organisation which was reproduced across the empire. The Russian word ‘Soviet’, which means advice or counsel, was also applied to meetings, such as the peasant commune. Indeed, it was probably traditions of the commune that inspired the first Soviet. Just as communes consisted of all heads of households in the village, a Soviet was elected from all workers in the town. Soviets were set up in towns and cities across the country, including Moscow, Baku, Ekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Odessa, Saratov and others. In some places they gained much wider powers than simple strike committees, spreading their control from working-class districts to entire towns and effectively acting as city councils or the local administration.

Lev Trotsky

The St Petersburg Soviet was by far the most important of them, rapidly rising to the dominant position among Soviets throughout the country. Among its 562 members were workers, teachers, doctors, trade-union officials and representatives of the revolutionary parties. The most influential of political parties represented in the Soviet was the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party and, in particular, its Menshevik wing. The leader of St Petersburg Soviet was a young Marxist, Lev Trotsky (1879-1940). He was independent of both Menshevik and Bolshevik factions and became one of the revolution’s most inspiring public speakers.

 
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The Revolution of 1905-7

 

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