The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Russia 1917:
The Revolution in the Army

Mar 20, 2017

This article follows one on the Russian Revolution in the previous edition of the SPARK. More articles will appear in subsequent issues to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the revolution.

The revolution, victorious in Petrograd on February 27 of 1917 (March 12 by today’s calendar), soon reached the front, where the Russian army had been getting trampled on by the German army for three years. A soldier recounts below one of the many meetings held to announce the revolution:

“Once everyone quieted down and formed ranks, the first speaker of the workers’ and soldier’s delegates, Comrade Kossurayev, made an impassioned speech explaining what we were doing: ‘We are celebrating the freedom of Russia, and honoring the memory of our comrades who fell for that liberty, and those locked away between prison walls oozing with filth.’ He spoke with such emotion that no one could hold back their tears.

“The next speaker, Tsiglov, expressed our needs and our suffering, and described the punishments in store for the officers who had acted in such a revolting way. To hear such beautiful words, every soldier’s soul was touched, all had tears on their faces.

“It has to be said: ‘Here you are, you rascals, you behave this way with the soldiers. Now, look at us eye to eye. Who has reason on their side, and who is guilty? You drink our blood, you force us to say light is dark and dark is light, but the darkness has fallen from the eyes of the soldiers, and is transformed into light, and then into red, as if suddenly the deep darkness of the night had lifted!The soldiers didn’t let the officers speak because they used to have all the rights and now they have to shut up, while the soldiers express all the accumulated misery of the previous years.”

At the front, soldiers built their own soviets. In the towns, the soldiers sat next to the workers in the soviets. Under their direction, on March 1st, the Petrograd soviet adopted the famous Order Number One. It called for every unit to elect a “committee of representatives made up of simple soldiers.” It said that: “In all political acts, every military unit will obey the soviet of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies and its committees.

– “Arms of all kinds must be at the disposition and under the control of the committees, and under no case given to the officers, even if they call for them.

– “When they are not on duty, in their political, civic, and private life, the soldiers are not to be denied any of the rights enjoyed by all citizens. In particular, standing at attention and saluting superior officers are abolished when soldiers are not on duty.

– “All the former forms of address demanded by officers such as “Your excellency” are also abolished.

“Bad treatment of soldiers of any kind is forbidden.”

This was how, even at the front, Russia in the spring of 1917 had become “the freest country in the world,” as Lenin expressed it. The soldiers, organized in their soviets or committees, commanded their officers. In the middle of the war, this was certainly a revolution in the army!