Documents and materials of the 1917 Petrograd soviet

Documents and materials of the 1917 Petrograd soviet

Protocols, transcripts and reports, resolutions, decisions of the general meetings, section meetings, meetings of the Executive Committee and factions. Volume one (1991): 27 February – 31 March (+ Getzler's review), Volume four (2003): 3 July – 25 October.

Петроградский Совет рабочих и солдатских депутатов в 1917 году

Volumes one and four also available as PDF-files:

Not online: Volume two (1995, St.-Petersburg): 1 April – 5 May, Volume three (2002, Moscow): 6 May – 2 July.

Russia in Revolution: The Protocols of the 1917 Petrograd Soviet
(Review of volume one, by Israel Getzler)1

Petrogradskii sovet rabochikh i soldatskikh deputatov v 1917 godu. Protokoly, stenogrammy i otchety, rezoliutsii, postanovleniia obshchikh sobranii, sobranii sektsii, zasedanii Ispolnitel'nogo komiteta i fraktsii 27 fevralia -25 oktiabria 1917 goda. 31 marta I9I7 goda. Ed. B. D. Gal'perina, 0. N. Znamenskii and V. I. Startsev. Nauka, Leningrad, 1991. 664pp. Vol. I: 27 fevralia - 31 marta 1917 goda. Photographs. Annotations. Notes. Index.

Students of the Russian February Revolution of 1917 will hail the publication of this volume as a victory of glasnost' and a triumph of dedicated and ingenious scholarship. At long last, the draft minutes of the proceedings of the Petrograd Soviet for the period 27 February to 31 March 1917 have been made readily available to the scholarly public, which is invited by this 'academic edition' 'to determine for itself the many possible ways in which the documents can be interpreted'.2 Better still, this is only the first instalment of a promised five-volume3 series, under the general editorship of Academician V. P. Volobuev, which is planned to cover the protocols of the Petrograd Soviet up to the October Revolution.

This, then, spells the end of a sixty-year-long veto imposed by the Soviet state on the publication of what are surely some of the most important documents of the Russian Revolution. The history of that veto dates back to 1931, the year of Stalin's infamous letter to the editorial board of Proletarskaia revoliutsiia, which effectively halted all further work on a two-volume edition of the protocols ostensibly because its commentaries contained numerous references to the works of Alexander Shliapnikov who was by then in deep disgrace.4 More than thirty years were to pass before an attempt was made to prepare the draft minutes of the proceedings of the Petrograd Soviet for publication. The minutes proving all but illegible and full of baffling and idiosyncratic abbreviations, the forensic experts of the Leningrad Criminal Investigation Department were called upon to help but refused to co-operate; thus, until his tragically early death in November 1972, it was the historian Dr Iurii S. Tokarev who wrestled all but alone to decipher the minutes, succeeding only in covering those for March and April 1917. But publication was again prevented in the early I970S when the general editor of the project, Professor P. V. Volobuev, was dismissed from his 'post as director of the Institute of History at the Academy of Sciences and leading members of his staff suffered harassment.5 It was only thanks to the advent of glasnost' that the project could be resumed. This book is thus both a memorial to the dedicated work of Dr Tokarev and the harbinger of a liberated Russian scholarship.

The rich and fascinating minutes echo the day by day debates of the Soviet's plenum and its Executive Committee arguing out the major problems of Russia in revolution within that broad soviet consensus that was so soon to be destroyed by Lenin and by the ensuing bitter divisions within the ranks of the 'revolutionary democracy'. Four sessions are cited here as particularly impressive: the plenum sessions of 1 and 10 March, the festive session of 14 March, and the Executive Committee debates of 21 and 22 March.

What stands out on 1 March is the major role played by the 'soldier' Maksim (S. A. Klivanskii) in the formulation of the main points that seem to have formed the basis for the soviet's Order No. 1. Yet Klivanskii, as internal evidence suggests, was no ordinary soldier, but most probably an SR and a radical intelligent at that, who spoke the language of 'revolutionary defencism' long before the arrival of Iraklii Tseretelli on 19 March, when, apparently, that term was coined.6 There is nothing in the annotations on Klivanskii, but he seems to have been a man of many parts. On 4 March he reminded the Soldiers' Section of the Soviet that 'I was the first to come to the soldiers and lead them to the [Tauride] Palace';7 a report in this volume also credits him with founding the Riga Soviet of Workers' Deputies.8 So much, then, for the celebrated origins of Order No. I as the unaided product of soldier spontaneity, dictated to a compliant Nikolai Sokolov and foisted on a reluctant Executive Committee.

Equally impressive is the session of io March which debated the need for vigilant surveillance of an already distrusted Provisional Government. The confidence engendered in the Soviet by its control over the garrison is truly remarkable and common to all speakers, some of whom extol their Soviet as the 'sole legislative institution' of Russia and its parliament (strogii parlament), with the Provisional Government reduced to the role of 'executive' or 'the Soviet's secretary'.9

The record of the festive session of 14 March, which adopted the Address to the Peoples of the World, is particularly moving. Drafted by Nikolai Sukhanov in the spirit of Zimmerwald and read out with solemnity by Sokolov, the Address was supported by the spokesmen of all parties, including the Bolsheviks G. F. Fedorov and M. K. Muranov, with speaker after speaker, Ukrainian, Pole, Jew and Lithuanian, all proclaiming their internationalist credo.10 Only a pugnacious Iurii Steklov, deputizing for Sukhanov (made late for the session by the breakdown of an unreliable car), struck ajarring note in introducing the Address. It was left to the Georgian Menshevik A. I. Chkhenkeli to rise to the occasion and make a speech befitting what may well have been the Russian Revolution's finest hour.11

More important still are the – albeit incomplete – minutes of the momentous debates of 21 and 22 March in the Executive Committee on the agonizing question of what to do about the war that had been inherited from tsardom, and about the 'imperialist' policies of Miliukov and Guchkov. Unfortunately missing from the minutes is Tseretelli's aggressively 'defencist' - speech of 21 March, which stunned the Zimmerwaldist wing of the Executive Committee and marked the soviet's move from an amorphous, almost naive internationalism to 'revolutionary defencism'. Still, the gap is perhaps filled by Genrikh Erlikh's short speech, which approvingly reiterated Tseretelli's main points, and by Tseretelli's own second, more conciliatory, speech of 22 March;12 these, together with detailed accounts given by Tseretelli's chief opponents, and the compromise resolution finally adopted13 enable us to appreciate Sukhanov's assessment of the acrimonious debate as marking 'the turning point in the entire policy of the soviet if not of the entire course of the revolution'.14 What is gratifying is to have ample endorsement for the trustworthiness of the accounts left to us by Sukhanov and Tseretelli,15 with pride of place for accuracy going to Sukhanov, even despite his regret that he had been unable to consult the minutes.16 By contrast, Shliapnikov's account is both very Bolshevik-centred and vituperative: thus, in tune with Bolshevik tradition, he labels Tseretelli 'an extreme chauvinist'. Further, writing of a debate in which the Bolsheviks played a minor role (as they did throughout March 1917) as part of the Internationalist wing of the Executive Committee, Shliapnikov inflates the discussion into 'a fierce battle' between the Bolsheviks and a united front of 'social chauvinists', with the 'Internationalists', such as Sukhanov, K. S. Grinevich and E. K. Sokolovskii, 'acting as a buffer'. Shliapnikov himself, so he relates, was nothing less than Tseretelli's chief opponent, parrying the latter's references to Engels and August Bebel in support of the 'defence of the Fatherland' with his own quotations from Engels.17

The introduction by Professor Startsev, the chief editor of the volume, presents the history of the Petrograd Soviet of 1917 in concise form as seen and understood by Soviet scholars such as E. N. Burdzhalov, Volobuev, Tokarev, G. L. Sobolev and Gal'perina, whose erudition and integrity have long impressed Western scholars. Not surprisingly, Startsev squarely faces up to the question of Bolshevik inactivity in the foundation of the Petrograd Soviet and the insignificant role they played in its policy-making throughout March. That awkward problem has bedevilled Soviet historiography for the last seventy years and has produced a rich crop of quasi-sociological explanations, as well as attempts to prove that the Bolsheviks were already busy organizing elections to a Petrograd soviet between 24 and 26 February. Startsev is sceptical abcut 'the results of these researches': he thinks that the Mensheviks were able to 'outplay the Bolsheviks' and thus acquire 'the important advantages' of being the founders of the Petrograd Soviet simply because the Bolsheviks were 'in no hurry' to organize soviets. They had paid too much heed to Lenin's injunction that soviets were useful only as 'organs of uprising, organs of revolutionary state power'. Startsev expects the minutes will throw further light on the roles played by the various parties in the foundation and early activities of the Petrograd Soviet. This reviewer's initial reading of this volume suggests that the Bolsheviks remained, well into March, captives to their narrow Leninist conception of soviets and were thus rendered ineffective.18

The annotations which accompany the sessions day by day are copious and erudite, and the vignettes of personalities such as Tseretelli and Ekaterina Breshko-Breshkovskaia are matter of fact and objective:19 one can only wish that some information (and photographs, too, if possible) were given on such major figures as B. O. Bogdanov, Sokolov, Sukhanov, Iurii Larin, V. G. Groman, V. B. Stankevich and P. R. Aleksandrovich, as well as on speakers in the debates, including, of course, Klivanskii. One may also wonder why it is necessary to label as 'petty bourgeois' such rival socialist parties as Menshe- viks and SRs, and to mark the intelligentsia close to them as 'socialist' (in inverted commas) and the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet as soglashtel'skii (compromising), conducting a likvidatorskaia policy.20

The bibliographical information given in the Introduction cites the works of such ex-Mensheviks-turned-Bolsheviks as O. A. Ermanskii, M. Rafes, D. I. Zaslavskii, V. A. Kantorovich and M. I. Skobelev,21 but ignores the memoirs of Tseretelli and Stankevich,22 as well as the works of Western historians such as Oskar Anweiler,John Keep, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Allan Wildman and Ziva Galili. One may well assume that the fifth and final volume of the Protokoly will include a comprehensive bibliography of works on the 1917 soviets and, in particular, on the Petrograd Soviet.

Clearly these observations are in no way intended to detract from the value of this volume as an inestimable contribution to the renewed study of the February revolution. We can but express our sincere respect and deep gratitude to Profs Volobuev, Startsev and Znamenskii, and to Dr Gal'perina, who, against all odds, have seen this work through.

  • 1. The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Oct., 1992), pp. 727-73.
  • 2. Protokoly (see above for publication details), pp. 9, 15.
  • 3. It turned out to be 4 volumes – note by NR.
  • 4. Ibid., p. 6.
  • 5. Ibid., p. 6; for facsimiles of some minutes, see pp. I 12, 165, 189, 552.
  • 6. Ibid., p. 457; V. N. Miller's detailed study of the minutes of I March 'Nachalo demokratizatsii staroi armii v dni fevral'skoi revoliutsii (Zasedanie Petrogradskogo Soveta 4 i marta 1917g. i prikaz No. I)' (Istoriia SSSR, I 966, 6 [November-December], pp. 26-43) shows that he is fully aware of the role played by Klivanskii in the debates which led to the adoption of Order No. 1, but his partiinost' seems to have led him into misinterpreting Klivanskii's revolutionary defencism as 'a chauvinist position' which began to lead him towards 'compromise with the counter-revolution' (Miller, p. 37).
  • 7. Protokoly, pp. 121-22.
  • 8. Ibid., p. 55.
  • 9. Ibid., pp. 234, 235, 261, also p. 145
  • 10. Ibid., pp. 313-21.
  • 11. Ibid., pp. 306-07 (Steklov), 317-i8 (Chkhenkeli); the editorial comment on the Address (ibid., p. 334n.) is certainly out of tune with the speeches of the Bolsheviks Fedorov and Muranov and with Pravda, which printed the Address on its front page, but is in tune with Lenin's sneers at the Address on 9 June 1917 (see V. I. Lenin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 32, Moscow, 1962, pp. 278, 280).
  • 12. Protokoly, pp. 457-58, 471-72; it is perhaps worth noting that Tseretelli's speech of 21 March is also missing from the collection of his speeches Rechi 1. G. Tsereteli, published in Petrograd in 1917, but a substantial and crucial extract from that speech does appear in I. G. Tseretelli, Vospominaniia o Fevral'skoi Revoliutsii, vol. I, Paris-La Haye, 1963 (hereafter Tseretelli, Vospominaniia), pp. 46-47.
  • 13. Protokoly, pp. 479-80.
  • 14. Nikolai Sukhanov, Zapiski o revoliutsii, vol. 2, Berlin, 1919 (hereafter Sukhanov, Zapiski), p. 334.
  • 15. Protokoly, pp. 336-46; Tseretelli, Vospominaniia, pp. 455-57.
  • 16. Sukhanov, Zapiski, p. 336.
  • 17. A. G. Shliapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, vol. 3, Moscow-Leningrad, 1927, p. 182.
  • 18. Protokoly, pp. 7, 13-14, 36, 67, 74, 233, 248, 258.
  • 19. Ibid., pp. 216n.-17n., 403n.
  • 20. Ibid., pp. 45 In., 202n., 334n., 23n., 45n.
  • 21. Ibid., pp. 11n., 14n.
  • 22. V. B. Stankevich, Vospominaniia 1914-1919, Berlin, 1920.
1. 27 февраля—31 марта 1917 года. 1991.doc5.45 MB
4. 3 июля — 25 октября 1917 года. 2003.doc4.97 MB


Feb 19 2017 19:07

S. A. Klivanskii (1879–?) was in fact a Menshevik who wrote for his party's newspaper Den'. He was later repressed, probably more than once, but the last time was in 1944.

Noa Rodman
Apr 28 2017 20:10

Documents and materials (in 3 volumes) of the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee:

Петроградский военно-революционный комитет.
Документы и материалы

It runs from Lenin's letter of September 12-14 until the beginning of November.

Noa Rodman
Jul 9 2017 20:54

Soviets in the epoch of war communism, documentary materials (volume 1: June 1918 through 1919, volume 2: 1920 to April 1921):

Советы в эпоху военного коммунизма. (ed. Антонов-Саратовский В.П. ) М.: Издательство Коммунистической академии, 1928, 1929:

It covers the organisation/structure, activity, resolutions, etc. of various soviets. Of course it is a selection.

The extensive development of scientific research on the history of soviet construction is largely hampered by the complete absence of systematic collections of relevant documents and materials. In order to at least partly remove this obstacle, the Historical Commission of the Institute of Soviet Construction began to systematize documents and materials on the history of the organization and construction of councils, providing materials of central, as well as local councils up to the grassroots. Despite the unfavorable working conditions, in particular the multiplicity and scatter of storage facilities and sources, the Commission managed, as an endeavor, to prepare a collective work covering the most significant documents
the proposed work covers documents relating to
A) Organizational acts of the central Soviet government,
B) the organizational construction of councils on the ground,
C) the committees of the poor,
D) the relationship of councils and parties,
E) financial affairs and
F) the core issue of the epoch – the food business.