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The Bolsheviks in Power

The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd

Alexander Rabinowitch

Publication Year: 2007

A major contribution to the historiography of the world in the 20th century, The Bolsheviks in Power focuses on the fateful first year of Soviet rule in Petrograd. It examines events that profoundly shaped the Soviet political system that endured through most of the 20th century. Drawing largely from previously inaccessible Soviet archives, it demolishes standard interpretations of the origins of Soviet authoritarianism by demonstrating that the Soviet system evolved ad hoc as the Bolsheviks struggled to retain political power amid spiraling political, social, economic, and military crises. The book covers issues such as the rapid fall of influential moderate Bolsheviks, the formation of the dreaded Cheka, the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, the Red Terror, the national government's flight to Moscow, and the subsequent rivalry between Russia's new and old capitals.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xv

The Bolsheviks came to power in Russia in October 1917. The regime they established, which was dedicated to the universal triumph of communism, controlled Russian politics and society for more than seventy-five years. It can reasonably be argued that this outcome, more than any other single event, shaped world history for much of the twentieth century. Most of my professional research and writing has been devoted to studying...


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pp. xvii-xxii

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Prologue: The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution in Petrograd

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pp. 1-13

To make sense of the evolution of the Bolshevik party in Petrograd during the first year of Soviet rule, and the factors shaping the authoritarian, one-party political system which emerged then, it is necessary to take account of the results of the February revolution that overthrew Tsar Nicholas II and, even more, the character and makeup of the Bolshevik party in 1917 and the dynamics of the October revolution which brought it to power.


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1. Forming a Government

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pp. 17-53

The severe setback that Bolshevik moderates suffered at the opening session of the Second All- Russian Congress of Soviets did not end their efforts, or those of other left socialist groups, to form a multiparty, homogeneous socialist government at the Soviet Congress and in its immediate aftermath. During these days, they sought to restore the movement toward creation of a broad socialist coalition that had been destroyed by the violent overthrow...

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2. Rebels into Rulers

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pp. 54-79

The collapse of efforts to broaden the Sovnarkom or even make it accountable to the multiparty CEC, coupled with the unwillingness of all Russian political groups, except for the Bolsheviks and Left SRs, to recognize the legitimacy of Soviet power, meant that in the wake of the October revolution the Bolsheviks bore exclusive responsibility for maintaining order and providing municipal services, and food and fuel, to Petrograd and the surrounding...

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3. Gathering Forces

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pp. 80-103

In December 1917, in spite of tension between hard- line Bolshevik policies and Left SR ideals reflected in conflict over repression of the Kadets and the structural relationship between the Sovnarkom and the CEC, the Left SRs agreed to accept posts in the Sovnarkom. Contrary to accepted wisdom, directly connected to this development was the founding of one of the pillars of early Soviet repression, the All- Russian Extraordinary Commission for...

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4. The Fate of the Constituent Assembly

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pp. 104-127

The day had arrived, 5 January 1918, that was to mark the end of efforts to establish a Western- style, multiparty democratic system in Russia for most of the twentieth century. The Constituent Assembly was scheduled to convene at 1:00 pm. According to plans developed and widely circulated by the UDCA, participants in its mass demonstration were to gather at nine assembly points during the morning. From there, they were to march to...


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5. Fighting Lenin

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pp. 131-154

To war- weary Russian peasants, workers, and soldiers, the promise of immediate peace without annexations or indemnities had been one of the most engaging aspects of the broadly popular Bolshevik program in 1917. After the collapse of efforts by the moderate socialists to arrange a peace conference in Stockholm during the summer of 1917, the Bolsheviks, alone among major Russian political parties, stood for immediate peace. An abiding concern...

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6. “The Socialist Fatherland Is in Danger”

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pp. 155-180

First word of Trotsky’s sensational declaration of an end to the war and its apparent acceptance by the Central Powers reached Smolny by direct wire around midnight, 28/29 January. At once, Zinoviev issued an exultant statement to the press that must have been as puzzling to reporters as Trotsky’s statement had been to representatives of the Central Powers in Brest. Asked by a mystified correspondent what the phrase “no war, no peace” meant in...

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7. An Obscene Peace

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pp. 181-209

Dispatching his acceptance of harsher peace terms to Berlin in the early morning of 24 February, Lenin hoped to head off the occupation of Petrograd by rapidly advancing German forces. He was, of course, unaware that the Germans planned to stop short of the city. His fears that the Germans intended to capture the Russian capital and crush the revolution were reawakened, therefore, by news he received later that day— first about the capture...


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8. A Turbulent Spring

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pp. 213-236

The Sovnarkom’s flight to Moscow coincided with deepening food and fuel shortages and skyrocketing social problems. Bolshevik leaders staying in Petrograd were also faced with the emerging opposition of Petrograd workers, the social class most responsible for their rise to power in 1917. In the late spring and early summer of 1918, these problems worsened and new ones emerged, among them military moves toward Petrograd by Finnish Whites...

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9. Continuing Crises

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pp. 237-259

On top of the mounting unrest among workers, throughout the spring and early summer of 1918 Petrograd remained threatened by German occupation. The military danger was heightened by German troops who had come ashore at the southwestern tip of Finland on 3 March and joined Finnish White forces that had been sweeping eastward, scoring decisive victories over the Reds. The enemy advance soon jeopardized ships of the Russian...

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10. The Northern Commune and the Bolshevik–Left SR Alliance

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pp. 260-282

Zinoviev, in March 1918, had opposed the relocation of the national government to Moscow— the pre-Petrine Russian capital— because he recognized that moving it there instead of to a less central and less important city reduced the likelihood of its ever returning to Petrograd (Zinoviev’s choice was Nizhnii Novgorod). Once the move was made, Zinoviev stressed that because the Russian people still viewed Petrograd as the capital, in...

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11. The Suicide of the Left SRs

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pp. 283-309

During the time that Petrograd Bolsheviks and Left SRs were suppressing their differences and working together to preserve Soviet power in Petrograd, divisions between the national Communist and Left SR leadership in Moscow widened precipitously. Their “honeymoon” had come to an abrupt halt during the second half of March, after ratifi cation of the Brest treaty by the Fourth All- Russian Congress of Soviets and the withdrawal of Left SRs...


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12. The Road to “Red Terror”

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pp. 313-329

The summer of 1918 saw a hardening of policies toward real and potential counterrevolution in Petrograd. Volodarskii’s assassination, the removal of the moderating influence of the Left SRs on Petrograd government, an upsurge of anti-Bolshevik activity involving Allied secret agents, the increased danger of German occupation after Count Mirbach’s assassination, and the constantly growing threat of famine and epidemic diseases all threatened...

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13. The Red Terror in Petrograd

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pp. 330-355

The assassination of Moisei Uritskii on the morning of 30 August and the attempt on Lenin’s life that night have usually been viewed as the direct cause of the Red Terror. Actually, undeclared Red Terror in all its forms had been under way in Moscow and other Russian cities for months. In Petrograd the practice of taking political hostages had begun in late July. Uritskii’s ban on shootings had been reversed by the PCheka on 19 August (after which the...

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14. Celebrating “The Greatest Event in the History of the World”

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pp. 356-388

Against the backdrop of the Red Terror in Petrograd, Bolsheviks in the former capital were preparing to celebrate the first anniversary of the October revolution. The history of the organization and staging of this premier Soviet holiday sheds light on broader political and social issues confronting the Petrograd Bolsheviks and Soviet power a year after “October.” These issues include the redefinition of Petrograd’s identity from the perspective of...

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15. Price of Survival

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pp. 389-401

During the culminating stage of the October revolution in Petrograd, Lenin’s demand that power be seized at once won out over the Bolshevik moderates’ more patient and cautious plan of undermining the Provisional Government gradually and linking its formal removal to the action of the Second All- Russian Congress of Soviets. Yet, despite this initial, seemingly decisive setback, the moderates continued to fight for their goals which, it...

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pp. 403-407

1917 October 25–27 Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets 29 Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC) suppresses anti-Soviet uprising in Petrograd 29–5 November Vikzhel-sponsored talks on broadening government 30 Red forces repulse General Krasnov’s Cossacks supporting Kerensky at Pulkovo November 3–4 Bolshevik moderates...


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pp. 409-454


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pp. 455-474

INDEX [Includes About the Author]

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pp. 475-495

E-ISBN-13: 9780253116840
E-ISBN-10: 0253116848
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253349439

Page Count: 520
Illustrations: 25 b&w photos, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2007