'We are living through wild times', Sergei Semenov wrote to an old friend in the spring of 1917. It is hard for the people of our generation to adapt to the new situation. But through this revolution our lives will be purified and things will get better for the young.'10 The peasant reformer pinned all his hopes on the civilizing mission of the revolution. At last, so he thought, the time had come for the backward Russian village to receive the benefits of the modern world. He welcomed the fall of the old regime in a spirit of optimistic expectation and reconciliation with his mistrustful peasant neighbours in the village commune of Andreevskoe. It was now a full six years since he had ended his long and bitter struggle to separate from them and set up his own private enclosed farm on the outskirts of the village.
During that first hopeful spring Semenov picked up once again from the reforms he had started during 1905. He expanded his work in the agricultural co-operatives; revived the local Peasant Union; opened a 'people's club' in the local market town of Bukholovo; and organized lectures for the peasants on a whole range of progressive subjects, from republican philosophies to the advanced methods of overwintering cows. He even drew up a blueprint for the electrification of the whole of the Volokolamsk district which he presented to the Moscow city duma. Semenov's daughter, Tatiana, recalls her fathers renewed hopes and energies during the spring of 1917:
We were amazed by our father's strength — it had literally doubled overnight — and he now looked forward to the future with high expectations. He not only worked in the fields but he also travelled around the villages, looking into every aspect of peasant affairs. He read on everything, and constantly wrote. Sometimes, when we were all asleep, he would still be working in his room. The next morning he was the first up.11
The revolution raised Semenov's standing among the villagers of Andreevskoe. It also reduced the power of Grigorii Maliutin, the patriarchal elder of the village commune and arch-enemy of Semenov's reforms. The old power structure upon which Maliutin had depended — the volost elder, the local police and the gentry land captain — was dismantled almost overnight. Within the village the voice of the younger and more progressive farmers was also becoming more dominant, while that of the older peasants, like Maliutin, who saw nothing good in the revolution, was increasingly ignored. The social changes of the past few years lay at the root of this democratization of the village commune. More and more households were being headed by the younger peasants, as a result of household partitions. During the war years, in the absence of their menfolk, many peasant households were headed by women: in many regions up to one-third, and in Andreevskoe itself over a quarter. These younger peasants looked towards Semenov as a champion of reform. He always spoke out at the village assembly against the Church and the patriarchal order. As the most literate peasant in the village, he was also called upon to write its resolutions when the village scribe, a lackey of Maliutin's, refused to 'work for the revolution'. But what really raised Semenov's standing was the success of his long campaign to get six of the poorest villagers released from the army because there was no one else to feed their families. During the autumn of 1916 he had been sentenced to six weeks in jail after Maliutin had denounced him to the authorities for 'encouraging desertion'. But the villagers had refused to let him go and had held him in Andreevskoe, a hostage and hero of the peasant revolution, until the downfall of the old regime. Two weeks later the six peasants all returned home. Maliutin was discredited, and Semenov emerged as the leader of the village.12
During that spring Semenov broke up his private enclosed farm and returned to the peasant land commune. Most of Stolypin's peasant pioneers chose to do likewise in 1917. If up to one-third of the peasant households in Russia farmed private holdings on the eve of the revolution, then four years later less than 2 per cent continued to do so. Only the small minority of fully enclosed khutora had to be brought back by force. The semi-enclosed otruba tended to be much weaker economically and, like Semenov's, generally smaller than the neighbouring communal allotments. The prospect of sharing in the spoils of the commune's 'war on the manors', which started again during the spring, was enough to encourage most of them to return voluntarily.13
This return of the separators reflected a general peasant striving for solidarity within the village commune. 'Today, in free Russia, everyone should be equal and united,' declared the peasants of Dubovo-Pobedimov in Bugul'ma. 'The members of the communes should accept all the separators into their family on an equal basis and should cease all oppressive measures against them, since these only play into the hands of the enemies of the people.' The village commune was greatly strengthened as a result of the revolution. It revived from its pre-revolutionary state of torpor and decay to become the main organizing force of the peasant revolution on the land. All the main political organs of the revolution in the countryside — the village committees, the peasant unions and the Soviets — were really no more than the peasant commune in a more revolutionary form. The village commune stood for the ideals of land and freedom which had always inspired the peasants to revolt. It defined a circle of 'insiders' and defended their interests against 'outsiders' — landowners, townsmen, merchants, state officials, even peasants from the neighbouring communes — at a time of great insecurity.
Since the days of serfdom, the land commune had served as a link between its peasant household members (usually within a single village) and a particular landlord's estate. In 1917 it thus provided these villagers with a historical and a moral right to that estate on the often-stated peasant principle: 'Ours was the lord, ours is the land.' During the seizure of the gentry's estates the members of the commune displayed a remarkable degree of solidarity and organization. It was common for the village assembly to pass a resolution compelling all the members of the commune to take part in the march on the manor, or in other forms of peasant resistance, such as rent strikes and boycotts, on the threat of expulsion from the commune. It was a matter of safety in numbers. Contrary to the old Soviet myth, there were very few conflicts within the village between the richer and poorer peasants. But there were a great many conflicts between neighbouring communes, sometimes ending in little village wars, over the control of the estates.14
This is how the revolution on the land took place. At a pre-selected time the church bells rang and the peasants assembled with their carts in the middle of the village. Then they moved off towards the manor, like a peasant army, armed with guns, pitchforks, axes, scythes and spades. The squire and his stewards, if they had not already fled, were arrested or at least forced to sign a resolution conceding all the peasant demands. During the spring these were usually quite moderate: a lowering of land rents; the redistribution of prisoner-of-war labour; or the compulsory sale of grain, tools and livestock to the commune at prices deemed 'fair' by the peasants. The mass confiscation of the gentry's land did not occur until the summer. Most of the peasants were still prepared to wait for the Provisional Government to pass a new land law transferring the estates to them, just as they had once waited for the Tsar to pass a 'Golden Manifesto'. They were afraid to attack the estates before it was clear that the old regime would not be restored, as it had been in 1906—7, with the mass executions of the peasants which had followed. It was really only at the start of May, with the appointment of the SR Chernov as Minister for Agriculture, that the peasants had such a guarantee; and it was from this time that the outright confiscation of the gentry's estates became a nationwide phenomenon. Early May was also the start of the summer agricultural season. If the peasants were to harvest the squire's fields in the autumn, they would need to plough and sow them now.* So there was an obvious motive for the peasants to seize the land from about this time. The nuns of the Panovka Convent in Serdobsk were some of the more unusual victims of this increasing peasant aggression:
A resolution of the Davydovka volost executive committee on 10 April ordered our convent to rent to the peasants 15 desyatiny of our spring fields. On 19 May we received a communication from the same committee that, for our own needs, we may keep 15 desyatiny of fallow land, but that a further 30 desyatiny of land must be given to the peasants of Pleshcheevka village. Now [in mid-June] the peasants are requisitioning grain from our convent: 600 pud has been taken for the local villagers at I rouble 52 kopecks, but grain from the peasants is requisitioned at 2 roubles 50 kopecks.15
* Not surprisingly, many of the squires had left their fields unsown.
The return of soldiers on Easter leave, and indeed of deserters from the army, also had a lot to do with this increased peasant militancy. The peasant soldiers often took the lead in the march on the manors. Sometimes they encouraged the peasantry to indulge in wanton acts of vandalism. They burned the manor houses to drive the squires out; smashed the agricultural machinery (which in recent years had removed much of the need for hired peasant labour); carried away the contents of the barns on their carts; and destroyed or vandalized anything, like paintings, books or sculptures, that smacked of excessive wealth. It was also not uncommon for these soldiers to incite the peasants to attack the squires. In the village of Bor-Polianshchina, in Saratov province, for example, a band of peasants, led by some soldiers, forced their way into the manor house of Prince V V Saburov, and hacked him to death with axes and knives. It was a bloody retribution for the role his son had played as the local land captain in 1906, when twelve peasant rebels had been hanged in the village before their screaming wives and children. For three days after the murder the villagers ran riot on the Saburov estate. The manor house, which contained one of the finest private libraries in Russia, was burned to the ground.16
The terrified squires bombarded Prince Lvov with pleas for the restoration of law and order. Isolated in their manors, with nothing to protect them from the surrounding sea of hostile peasants, they were quick to accuse his government of doing nothing to stop the growing tide of anarchy that came ever closer to their gates. 'The countryside is falling into chaos, with robberies and arson every day, while you sit doing nothing in your comfortable Petersburg office,' one Tambov squire wrote to him in April. 'Your local committees are powerless to do anything, and even encourage the theft of property. The police are asleep while the peasants rob and burn. The old government knew better how to deal with this peasant scum which you call "the people".'17
With letters such as these to deal with, one could hardly blame Lvov for viewing the plight of the squires as a punishment for their 'boorish and brutal behaviour during the centuries of serfdom'. The revolution was the 'revenge of the serfs', he explained one day in June over lunch to some of his ministers. It was the 'result of our — and I speak now as a landowner — of our original sin. If only Russia had been blessed with a real landed aristocracy, like that in England, which had the human decency to treat the peasants as people rather than dogs. Then perhaps things might have been different.'18 It was a quite remarkable thing for someone of his class and background to say — a wistful admission, if you like, that the whole of the civilization of the gentry, of which the Prince himself was a scion, had never been more than a thin veneer laid over the top of the brutal exploitation of the peasants, from which the revolution had emerged.
Whatever Lvov might have said in private, it was the policy of his government to defend the property rights of the squires. The land question, as it saw it, had to be resolved by legal means, and this meant preserving the status quo in property relations until a new land law was decided by the Constituent Assembly. Yet the government had no real means to prevent the peasants from taking the law — and the gentry's land — into their own hands. The old police had been dismantled, while the army units in the countryside — even if their peasant recruits agreed to be used for such repressive purposes — were not nearly enough to protect more than a tiny proportion of the gentry's estates. The temporary volost committees, established by the government on 20 March and designed to uphold the existing order, were soon transformed into revolutionary organs which passed their own 'laws' to legitimize the peasant seizures of the gentry's property. The same thing happened with the volost land committees. The Provisional Government had intended these to protect the gentry's legal rights, while regulating agrarian relations until the Constituent Assembly. But they were taken over by the local peasants and soon transformed into revolutionary organs on the land, helping to impose fixed rents on the gentry, to account for their land and property, and to distribute it among the peasantry. In an attempt to prevent this subversion of the land committees, the government cut its grants to them; but the peasant communes merely filled the gap, financing the committees through self-taxation, and the committees continued to grow.
This revolution on the land was given a pseudo-legal endorsement by the peasant assemblies which convened in the spring in most of the central black-soil provinces, as well as the First All-Russian Peasant Assembly on 4—25 May. Nothing did more to undermine the government's authority in the countryside. The SR party activists, who dominated the executives of these assemblies, appealed for the peasants to show patience over the resolution of the land question. But they were soon obliged by the radical mood of the delegates on the floor to sanction the actions of the local communes, and even the seizures of the gentry's land, as an interim solution. The Kazan provincial peasant assembly resolved on 13 May to transfer all the land to the control of the peasant committees. Twelve days later the Samara peasant assembly followed suit in direct defiance of an order from Lvov ordering the provincial commissar to prevent any further peasant land seizures. The peasants believed that these resolutions by their assemblies carried the status of laws'. They used them to authorize further seizures of the land in the summer months. They did not understand the difference between a general declaration of principle by their own peasant assembly, which was in effect no more than a public organization, and the full promulgation of a government law. They seemed to believe that, in order to 'socialize' the land, or in order to transfer the land to the control of the communes, it was enough for a peasant assembly to pass a resolution to that effect. Peasant expectations transformed these assemblies into pseudo-government bodies passing laws' by simple declaration. And these laws' then took precedence over the statutes of the government. 'The local peasantry', complained the Commissar of Nizhnyi Novgorod, 'has got a fixed opinion that all civil laws have lost their force, and that all legal relations ought now to be regulated by peasant organizations.'19 This was the meaning of the peasant revolution.
* * * As with the peasants, so with the workers: their expectations rocketed during the spring of 1917. Over half a million workers came out on strike between mid-April and the start of July; and the range of workers was much broader than in any previous strike wave. Artisans and craftsmen, laundry women, dyers, barbers, kitchen workers, waiters, porters, chauffeurs and domestic servants — not just from the two capital cities but from provincial towns throughout the Empire — took their place alongside the veteran strikers, such as the metal and textile workers.20 Even the prostitutes went on strike.
Most of the strikers' demands were economic. They wanted higher wages to keep up with inflation and more reliable supplies of food. They wanted better conditions at work. The eight-hour day, in particular, had assumed an almost sacramental nature. The workers saw it as a symbol of all their rights and of their victory in the revolution. In many factories it was simply imposed by the workers downing their tools and walking out after the completion of an eight-hour shift. Anxious not to jeopardize production, or intimidated by their workers, most employers soon agreed to honour the eight-hour day (without wage reductions), although mandatory overtime was often introduced in the munitions factories as a way to maintain output levels. As early as 10 March 300 Petrograd factory owners announced their acceptance of the eight-hour day after negotiations with the Soviet, and on this basis it was introduced in most other towns.21
Yet in the context of 1917, when the whole structure of the state and capitalism was being redefined, these economic demands were unavoidably politicized. The vicious cycle of strikes and inflation, of higher pay chasing higher prices, led many workers to demand that the state impose more control on the market itself. The workers' struggle to control their own work environment, above all to prevent their employers from running down production to maintain their profits, led them increasingly to demand that the state take over the running of the factories.
There was also a new stress on the workers' own sense of dignity. They were now aware of themselves as 'citizens', and of the fact that they had 'made the revolution' (or had at least played a leading part in it), and they were no longer willing to be treated with any disrespect by either foremen or managers. This was often a spark for violence: offensive factory officials would be symbolically 'carted out', sometimes literally in a wheelbarrow, and then beaten up or thrown into the canal or cesspool. Many strikers demanded respectful treatment. Waiters and waitresses in Petrograd marched with banners bearing the demands:
WE INSIST ON RESPECT FOR WAITERS AS HUMAN BEINGS! DOWN WITH TIPS: WAITERS ARE CITIZENS!
Domestic servants marched to demand that they should be addressed with the formal 'you', as opposed to the familiar 'you', previously used to address the serfs. Yardmen demanded that their degrading title should now be changed to 'house directors'. Women workers demanded equal pay to men, an end to 'degrading body searches', fully paid maternity leave and the abolition of child labour. As the workers saw it, these were basic issues of morality. Their revolutionary aspirations, as Kanatchikov's story shows, were inextricably linked with their own personal striving for human dignity and individual worth. Many workers spoke of founding a 'new moral life', based on law and individual rights, in which there would be no more drunkenness, swearing, gambling or wife-beating.22
Part of the workers' new-found dignity was expressed in a new self-assertiveness. The workers claimed the down-town streets as 'theirs' by holding mass parades and meetings there. The city became a political theatre, as different groups of workers met to discuss their demands. These rallies were a vital aspect of the revolutionary spectacle. They were 'festivals of liberation', to adopt the phrase of Michelle Perrot, which gave the workers a new sense of confidence and collective solidarity. The whole of urban Russia seemed to have been caught up in this sudden craze for political meetings — mitingovanie as people called it. Everyone was talking politics. 'You cannot buy a hat or a packet of cigarettes or ride in a cab without being enticed into a political discussion,' complained Harold Williams of the Daily Chronicle.
The servants and house porters demand advice as to which party they should vote for in the ward elections. Every wall in the town is placarded with notices of meetings, lectures, congresses, electoral appeals, and announcements, not only in Russian, but in Polish, Lithuanian, Yiddish, and Hebrew . . . Two men argue at a street corner and are at once surrounded by an excited crowd. Even at concerts now the music is diluted with political speeches by well-known orators. The Nevsky Prospekt has become a kind of Quartier Latin. Book hawkers line the pavement and cry sensational pamphlets about Rasputin and Nicholas, and who is Lenin, and how much land will the peasants get.
Compared with this, remarked John Reed, 'Carlyle's "flood of French speech" was a mere trickle . . . For months in Petrograd, and all over Russia, every street-corner was a public tribune.' It was as if the whole of Russia, having been kept silent for hundreds of years, had to express everything on its mind in as short a time as possible. 'Day and night, across the whole country', Paustovsky wrote, 'a continuous disorderly meeting went on from February until the autumn of I9I7.'23
This growing political awareness and self-confidence among the workers was reflected in the mushroom growth of labour organizations during 1917. The trade unions and the Soviets resumed from where they had left off in 1905—6. But these were quickly overtaken by the factory committees, an innovation of 1917 which, having been elected on the factory floor, tended to develop faster and be more responsive to the immediate demands of the workers than either the unions or the Soviets, which, being organized at the industrial and city levels respectively, tended to be more bureaucratized. The main aim of the factory committees was to ensure the continuation of production at the plant. Factory closures were a daily occurrence, thousands of workers were being laid off, and many workers suspected their employers of deliberately running down production so as to 'starve out revolution' (or, as the capitalist Riabushin-sky put it, in a phrase that seemed to confirm these fears, it would take 'the bony hand of hunger' to make the workers 'come to their senses'). The committees set themselves up to fight against 'sabotage' by checking up on the work of the management; by taking charge of the supply of raw materials; and by regulating hiring and firing. They took charge of maintaining labour discipline; fought against absenteeism and drunkenness; and organized militias to defend the factory at night. 'Workers' control' was their aim, although by this was meant not so much the workers' direct management of production as their direct supervision of it, including participation on collective boards of management. As Steve Smith has convincingly shown, this did not make them the anarcho-syndicalist organizations depicted by many historians. It was never the aim of the factory committees to turn their plants into worker-communes and there was nothing in their practice to suggest that they rejected either state power or a centrally planned economy. On the contrary, as organs primarily of workers' defence designed to keep their factories running in the face of an economic crisis, they often ended up by demanding the nationalization of their plant. It was this, / along with the Mensheviks' domination of the trade unions, that made them the favoured channel of Bolshevik activity in 1917.24
No organization better reflected the growing self-assertiveness of the working class than the Red Guards. Like the factory committees, they were an innovation of 1917, and the initiative for their establishment came essentially from below. During the February Revolution a wide range of workers' armed brigades had sprung up to defend the factories. They refused to disarm when the government set up its own militias in the cities. So there was a dual system of police — with the city militias in the middle-class districts and the workers' brigades in the industrial suburbs — which mirrored the dual power structure in Petrograd. Gradually the workers' brigades were, albeit loosely, unified under the direction of the district Soviets. But from the start it was the Bolsheviks who had the dominant influence on them; and it was a Bolshevik, Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich, who first used the term 'Red Guard'. Whereas the Soviet leadership looked upon the Red Guards as a dangerous precedent which threatened to subvert the government, the Bolsheviks, once Lenin had returned, became keen supporters of the arming of the workers and helped to shape the Red Guards' self-image as a workers' army, permanently on alert, to defend 'the revolution' against any threat. The arming of the workers — and by July there were about 20,000 workers in the Red Guards of Petrograd alone — was a vital aspect of their psychology. These were the workers whom Lenin had in mind when he said that the workers were 'to the left' of the Bolsheviks. They were young (over half the Red Guards were under twenty-five), single, highly literate and skilled workers, most of whom had joined the industrial war during the militant strikes of 1912—14, when the Bolsheviks had first gained a hold on the working class of Petrograd and Moscow. Most of them belonged to or at least were sympathetic to one of the maximalist parties — usually the Bolsheviks or the Anarchists — and had an image of themselves as a 'vanguard of the proletariat'.25
The Provisional Government was quite unable to contain this rise of labour militancy. It was misguided by the liberal industrial ethic of the War Industries Committees, of which its Minister of Trade and Industry, Konovalov, as well as its Minister of Finance, Tereshchenko, had been leading members. Central to this ethic was the (frankly rather bogus) notion of the government as the guardian of a 'neutral state', above party or class interests, whose role in industry was to mediate and conciliate between labour and capital. The important thing was to keep production going in the interests of the military campaign. The class war was to be stopped to win the war against Germany.
During the first weeks of Konovalov's rule there were some signs of this new spirit of industrial partnership. As part of the agreement on the eight-hour day brokered by Konovalov on 10 March, conciliation boards, composed equally of managers and workers, were established in many factories to resolve disputes without costly strikes. The administration of the railways was handed over to local railway committees in which the workers participated alongside the technicians and officials. Konovalov himself arbitrated many industrial disputes and leant on the employers to make concessions — often compensating them in other ways — in the interests of the war economy. V G. Groman, the Menshevik economist, even began to draw up the outlines for a 'planned economy' in which the workers, technicians and employers would come together to regulate the economy under the tutelage of the Soviet and the state.26
Yet this armistice in the class war did not and could not last for very long. The government's would-be 'neutral' stance was itself a major reason for the resumption of hostilities. For each side suspected it of favouring the other. On the one hand, the workers were encouraged by their early gains — there were reports of some workers receiving a five-fold or six-fold pay increase — and this engendered unrealistic hopes of what it was possible to achieve by industrial action. Their expectations were further increased by the Mensheviks' entry into the government on 5 May (with Skobelev, a Menshevik, the Minister of Labour). It appeared to give them a green light for more strikes and an assurance that they had supporters in the government. Workers came out with new and often excessive strike demands, became disappointed when they lost, and accused the government of backing their employers. It was a disaster for the Mensheviks.
The employers, on the other hand, were becoming increasingly impatient with the workers' claims, and with the government's failure to contain them. They blamed the industrial crisis on the workers' inflationary pay rises, on the reduced length of the working day, and on the constant disruptions to production caused by strikes and factory meetings. They were alarmed by the Menshevik entry into the government: it seemed to signal more regulation and a swing towards the workers' point of view. From the start of May, they began to move away from Konovalov's path of industrial compromise. They closed ranks and began to resist the workers' strike demands, even at the cost of a lock-out and the closure of the factory. Whereas before strikes had been averted by negotiation, now both sides were more ready for a fight, and the resulting strikes were violent and protracted, since neither side could be leant on to back down. The bitter strike at the huge Sormovo plant in Nizhnyi Novgorod, which brought chaos to the country's biggest defence producer throughout preparations for the offensive in June, was the first real sign of this new climate.27 It put an end to the liberal hopes of spring, and beckoned in a summer of industrial war.
* * * As the self-proclaimed guardians of the Russian state, the leaders of the Provisional Government were united on one thing: the need, for the time being, to preserve its imperial boundaries intact. It was, as they saw it, their primary duty to preserve the 'unity of the Russian state' until the conclusion of the war and the resolution of the Empire question by the Constituent Assembly. This did not rule out the possibility of conceding, as an interim measure, rights of local self-rule or cultural freedoms to the non-Russian territories. Indeed the liberals thought this was essential. They assumed that the grievances of the non-Russian peoples were essentially the result of tsarist discrimination and oppression, and that they could thus be satisfied with civil and religious equality. They collapsed the question of national rights into the question of individual rights; and believed that on this basis the Russian Empire could be kept together. But defending the 'unity of the Russian state' did rule out, as the Kadets put it, giving in to nationalist pressures that would lead to 'the division of the country into sovereign, independent units'. Even the SR and Menshevik Defensists, who as revolutionaries had declared their support for the principle of national self-determination, lined up behind the Kadet position once they joined them in the government during 1917. As socialists, they still supported federalism; but as patriots, they were reluctant to preside over the break-up of the state in the middle of a war. The SR leader, Mark Vishniak, speaking at the Third SR Congress in May, compared Russia to a huge Switzerland: a decentralized federation, in which the cantons, or republics, would have the maximum national rights (including the right to their own currencies), but with a single unified state.28
This position, like that of Gorbachev during pemtroika, was quite inadequate as a response to the growing pressures of nationalism after February 1917. True, not everywhere were the non-Russians bursting to break out of the Empire. Some of the more peasant-dominated peoples were barely aware of themselves as a 'nation' as opposed to an ethnic group (e.g. the Belorussians, the Lithuanians, the Azeris, and some might argue the Ukrainians). Others were by and large satisfied with civil and religious rights (e.g. the Jews). Others still combined their ethnic and social grievances in a single national-socialist revolution which looked towards Russia for the lead (e.g. Latvians and Georgians). Armenia, for purely nationalist considerations, looked to Russia for-protection against the Turks. Yet elsewhere — and in certain classes of these peoples — the collapse of the tsarist system did result in the rise of mass-based nationalist movements which first demanded autonomy from Russia and then, when this was not granted, went on to call for independence.
The emergence of independence movements was partly the result of opportunity. The coercive power of the old state had collapsed; the persuasive power of the Provisional Government was, to say the least, extremely limited; while the Germans and the Austrians, whose armies occupied the western borderlands, were only too ready to help the nationalists set up mini-states they could control and use against Russia. Yet the nationalists were more than 'German agents', even in those countries (e.g. the Ukraine and Lithuania) where independence was achieved with a separate peace and at the price of a German puppet-state. Many of the nationalist parties achieved mass electoral support. In the Ukraine, for example, 71 per cent of the rural vote went to the Ukrainian SRs and the All-Ukrainian Peasant Union during the elections to the Constituent Assembly in November 1917. Socialist parties with a nationalist platform also gained the majority of votes in Estonia, Georgia, Finland and Armenia during elections in I9I7.29
To be sure, it is not at all clear — and this remains one of the biggest unanswered questions of the Russian Revolution — what this mass support at the ballot box really tells us about the national consciousness of the peasantry, the vast majority of the population in all these societies. As one would expect, the most active and conscious nationalists were drawn from the petit-bourgeoisie, the petit-intelligentsia and the most prosperous and literate peasants, the peasant soldiers in particular.* After all, as we have seen, the growth of a peasant national consciousness was dependent on the spread of rural institutions, such as schools and reading clubs, peasant unions and co-operatives, which exposed the peasants to the national culture of the urban-centred world; and it was among these literate peasant types that these institutions were most developed. In the traditional political culture of the Ukrainian or Georgian countryside one might well expect the mass of the peasants — and even more so the peasant women, who were voting for the first time — to follow the lead of these rural elites and cast their votes for the nationalists. This was one of the main reasons why the SRs did so well in the elections to the Constituent Assembly: many of the village elders had been involved with the SRs in the past and they often recommended that the whole village vote for the SR list; rather than split the village into two all the peasants agreed to vote for the SRs. Second, all the most successful nationalist parties put forward programmes that combined nationalist with socialist demands, and it is not clear that the peasants were aware of the former separately. It is probable, as Ronald Suny has suggested in the case of the Ukraine, that while the peasantry had a 'cultural or ethnic awareness' and preferred 'leaders of their own ethnicity, people who could speak to them in their own language and promised to secure their local interests', they did not conceive of themselves 'as a single nationality' and were 'not yet moved by a passion for the nation'.30 In other words, they interpreted the nationalists' slogans in terms of their own parochial concerns — the defence of the village, its culture and its lands (against the foreign towns and landed elites) — rather than in the terms of a nation state.
Certainly, the nationalists were most successful where they managed to persuade the peasants that national autonomy was the best guarantee of their revolution in the villages. Their policy of land nationalization was particularly successful. In many regions the struggle for the land was also the struggle of a native peasantry against a foreign landowning elite, so when the nationalists spoke of the need to 'nationalize the land' it made real and literal sense. In the northern provinces of the Ukraine, where the Ukrainian villages were closely intermingled with the Russian ones, the nationalists were able to mobilize the Ukrainian peasants around the defence of their traditions of hereditary land tenure against the threat of a Russian land reform based on the principles of communal tenure. Mykola Kovalevsky, the leader of the Ukrainian SRs, recalls how their propaganda worked:
The Russians want to impose a socialization of the land upon you, I said to the peasants, that is to transfer the ownership of the land to the village communes and, in this way, to abolish your private farms; you will no longer be the masters of your own land, but will be workers on communal land.
* The nationalist leadership was also largely derived from these groups. In the Ukraine, for example, the main leaders of the nationalist movement were Vinnichenko (the son of a peasant), Hrushevsky (the son of a minor official), Doroshenko (the son of a military vet), Konovalov and Naumenko (both the sons of teachers), Sadovsky, Efremov, Mikhnovsky, Chekhovsky and Boldo-chan (all the sons of priests).
The nationalist campaign for native language rights was equally meaningful to the peasants: their expectations of social advancement were dependent on learning to read their native language and on being able to use it in public life. So was their movement (in Georgia and the Ukraine) for the nativization (autocephaly) of the Church hierarchy: with services conducted in the native language the priests would be brought closer to the peasants, and more peasants would enter the priesthood. Similarly, the establishment of national army units, the demand of military congresses held by nearly all the main non-Russian soldiers, would not only provide these would-be nation states with a ready-made national army but would also open the door for more non-Russians to rise up into the officer corps.31
Whatever its true nature or extent, the appeal of the nationalists was very much stronger than the leaders of the Provisional Government were prepared to allow for. Only in the case of Poland did they make a full retreat before the nationalists, declaring their support for Polish independence from as early as 16 March, and then only because, with Poland occupied by the Germans and the Austrians, there was nothing to be lost by such declarations and, on the contrary, the possibility of winning the support of the Polish population against the Central Powers. Even Brusilov, a Great Russian patriot fighting at that time on disputed Russian-Ukrainian-Polish soil, recognized that 'we had no other choice but to offer Poland its freedom'.32 But in the two other major conflicts — with the Finnish and Ukrainian nationalists — the Provisional Government refused to make any real concessions; and, largely as a result of this intransigency, these two movements both grew in their mass appeal and, as the government weakened visibly, turned from the demand for more autonomy to the demand for complete independence.
The Finnish problem stemmed from the doubtful basis of Russian rule in Finland after the collapse of the monarchy. The Finns argued, with some justification, that the Tsar had ruled over the Grand Duchy purely on the basis of his personal authority, as the Grand Duke of Finland, with the effect that after his downfall sovereignty should return to the Finnish parliament (Sejm). But in its Manifesto of 7 March the Provisional Government declared itself the full legal inheritor of the Tsar's authority in Finland and, while it restored the Finnish constitution, thereby ending thirteen years of direct Russian rule, it continued to insist that the government in Helsingfors should remain responsible to the Russian Governor-General, rather than the Sejm, until the future status of Finland had been resolved by the Constituent Assembly.
This was the start of a long and complex constitutional wrangle between the Finns (who refused to recognize the sovereignty of the Provisional Government) and the Russians (who refused to recognize the authority of the Sejm). Tokoi's coalition government in Helsingfors, a mixture of federal-minded socialists and liberal-minded nationalists, was based on the policy of negotiating a compromise solution, whereby Finland would gain full internal autonomy in exchange for a Russian veto over its foreign and military policy. Had level heads prevailed, the Provisional Government might have recognized this as a feasible temporary settlement of the conflict. But since the proposal entailed a smaller Finnish army for the Russian military campaign, it feared that this would prove to be the first step towards Finland's departure from the war, and it blocked the progress of the negotiations.
The deadlock continued through the spring, as Tokoi's government came under growing popular pressure to make a unilateral declaration of Finnish independence, while Petrograd saw in this a reason to stand even more firmly against all the Finnish demands. Both positions were largely determined by the fact that the Bolsheviks, who had taken up the Finnish cause in the hope of gaining an ally against the Provisional Government, were building up a powerful base of support among the sailors of Helsingfors, where they controlled their own Soviet organ of the Baltic Fleet (TsentroBalt). Tokoi underlined this Bolshevik threat in the hope of pressurizing the Provisional Government into making concessions. But the government was determined to stand firm. Even Kerensky, speaking like a true Great Russian patriot as the new Minister of War in May, warned the Finns not to try the patience of the 'open-hearted Russian people' by trying to 'deprive them of their rights to their own national territory'.33
Relations with Russia reached a crisis in June and July. A resolution of the All-Russian Soviet Congress calling on the Provisional Government to negotiate a treaty of independence with Finland at the end of the war was interpreted by the Sejm as a green light for it to pass its own declaration of independence (valtalaki) on 23 June. The valtalaki was greeted by nationwide celebrations. People falsely assumed that it had been supported by the 'Russian parliament'. But the Soviet was just as outraged by it as the Provisional Government. The valtalaki was a unilateral declaration of Finnish independence, whereas the Soviet resolution had meant it to be the result of bilateral negotiations with the Provisional Government. A Soviet delegation attempted to persuade the Finns to withdraw the valtalaki and, when this failed, the Soviet leaders gave their support to the government's decision to put down the Finnish movement by military force. Throughout July the Russians built up their troops on Finnish soil, threatening to use them against the Sejm if it did not withdraw its valtalaki. On 21 July the Sejm was dissolved. Most Russian socialists, despite their recognition of Finland's right to self-determination, accepted the need for this repressive measure and blamed it on the tactics of the Sejm. But others, like Gorky, warned that this action was bound to strengthen Finnish resolve, leading to the 'deepening of the conflict' and to the loss of Russia's democratic prestige in the West. In fact the dissolution did much more than that. By ruling out the possibility of a negotiated settlement, it effectively undermined the government in Helsingfors and pushed Finland along the path that would end in civil war, as the struggle for independence became intertwined with a broader social conflict between the liberal propertied classes, hesitant to make the final break with Russia, and an increasingly Bolshevized mass of workers, sailors and landless labourers, eager to declare independent Finland Red.34
In the Ukraine the February Revolution had immediately given rise to a nationalist movement based around the Rada, or parliament, established in Kiev on 4 March. While the Rada was ultimately committed to the Ukraine's right of self-determination, it saw its immediate task as the negotiation of cultural freedoms, greater political autonomy, and a radical land reform within a federal Russian state. The issue of land reform was especially important, for although the Rada could be sure of the support of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, it could not be so sure of the peasants, the vast majority of the Ukrainian population, although most of the Ukrainian soldiers, who were simply peasants in uniform, were, it is true, solidly behind the nationalist cause.
In mid-May a Rada delegation presented its demands to the Provisional Government. These demands were moderate — a recognition of the Ukraine's autonomy, a seat for the Ukraine at the peace settlement, a commissar for Ukrainian affairs, separate Ukrainian army units in the rear, and the appointment of Ukrainians to most civil posts — and the Provisional Government could have easily agreed to them without prejudicing the resolution of the Ukrainian question by the Constituent Assembly. But the Russian government and Soviet leaders dismissed the influence of the Rada — its declaration was not published by a single Russian newspaper — and appeared to assume that if they ignored it the whole problem would go away. Prince Lvov tried to bury the issue by setting up a special commission, packed with Russian jurists, which raised complicated legal questions about the legitimacy of every single Rada demand before concluding, predictably enough, that nothing could be resolved until the Constituent Assembly. It was yet another illustration of the Russian liberals using legal postures to hide from politics.
Yet the result of this ostrich-like reaction was merely to strengthen the nationalist cause and to drive it towards the more radical demand for independence from Russia. Urged by the Second Ukrainian Military Congress to make a unilateral declaration of autonomy, the Rada published its First Universal on 10 June. The Universal was a declaration of the Ukraine's freedom modelled on the charters of the seventeenth-century Cossack Hetmans, whom the nationalists claimed to be the founders of the 'Ukrainian nation', and in the context of 1917 it took on a symbolic role equal to the yellow and light blue flag of the Ukraine. The Universal called for the convocation of a Sejm, or sovereign national assembly, and declared the establishment of a General Secretariat, headed by V K. Vinnichenko, which effectively assumed executive power, replacing the authority of the Provisional Government in the Ukraine. It was only now that the Ukrainian crisis, coinciding as it did with the Finnish declaration of independence, came to the top of the political agenda. Just as the army was about to launch a fresh offensive in the West, Russia was threatened with the loss of two vital regions behind the Front. Lvov immediately accused the Rada of threatening to 'inflict a fatal blow on the state', while Volia naroda expressed the general Soviet view that the Universal was 'a stab in the back of the Revolution'.35
Yet it was clear that some compromise was needed, and on 28 June the government despatched a three-man delegation (Tereshchenko, Kerensky and Tsereteli) to negotiate with the Rada. On 2 July the two sides reached a makeshift compromise: the Provisional Government broadly recognized the national autonomy of the Ukraine, the popular legitimacy of the Rada and the executive authority of the General Secretariat. This was enough to cool down Ukrainian tempers for the rest of the summer. But it outraged the Russian nationalists in Kiev, Shulgin's chauvinist supporters in particular, who took to fighting the Ukrainians in the streets. The right-wing Kadets in Lvov's cabinet took up the cause of the Russian minority in the Ukraine. They refused to endorse the settlement on the grounds that only the Constituent Assembly had the legal authority to resolve such matters, which was really no more than a pretext for the defence of Russia's imperial interests in the Ukraine. In a conversation with his secretary, Lvov condemned the Kadets for 'behaving like the worst Black Hundred bastards' on the issue.36 On 4 July three Kadets resigned from the cabinet. This was the trigger for the start of a protracted political crisis which would end in the collapse of the Provisional Government.
* * * Brusilov to his wife on I March:
You must know what is happening. I am of course pleased. But I pray to God that this awful crisis, in this awful war, may soon end, so that our external enemy may not reap the benefit of our collapse. The one fortunate circumstance is that it comes at a time of the year when it is very difficult, almost impossible, for the enemy to launch an attack, for this would be a catastrophe. It is all the more important now that we win this war, otherwise it will be the ruin of Russia.
Brusilov's untiring faith in Russia's victorious destiny was now, more than ever, a matter of hope against hope. It was, as he later acknowledged, entirely unrealistic to sustain a lengthy military campaign in the midst of a social revolution. And yet he still believed in the will of the people to continue fighting until the end, and, unlike most of the Tsar's generals, threw in his lot with the revolution in the hope that the defence of Russia's liberty might at last inspire their patriotism. Monarchists accused him of opportunism; and historians have repeated the charge. But Brusiiov had long been persuaded, despite his own sympathies for the monarchy, that without a complete change of government Russia could not win the war. 'If I have to choose between Russia and the Tsar,' Brusilov had said in 1916, 'then I choose Russia.'37
The army of Free Russia was in fact much less willing to go on with the war than the optimistic general had presumed. Order Number One gave the mass of the soldiers a new self-pride as 'citizens' on an equal par with the officers, and this soon led to the breakdown of all discipline. The newly established soldiers' committees, although dominated to begin with by the democratic junior officers and the uniformed intelligentsia, soon became the leaders of this revolution in the ranks. They held meetings on strategy and on whether to obey the officers' orders. Some soldiers refused to fight for more than eight hours a day, claiming the same rights as the workers. Many refused to salute their officers, or replaced them with their own elected officers. Intimidation of officers was common. Brusilov himself received many letters from his men threatening to kill him if he ordered an advance. When, in May, Brusilov assumed the Supreme Command and reviewed the units on the Northern Front, where the spirit of mutiny was strongest, he found that hundreds of officers had already fled their posts, while more than a few had even been driven to suicide. 'I remember one case when a group of officers had overheard their soldiers talk in threatening tones of "the need to kill all the officers". One of the youngest officers became so terrified he shot himself that night. He thought it was better to kill himself than to wait until the soldiers murdered him.' Their methods of killing officers were so brutal, with limbs and genitals sometimes cut off or the victims skinned alive, that one can hardly blame the officer.38
One young captain wrote to his father on II March:
Between us and the soldiers there is an abyss that one cannot cross. Whatever they might think of us as individuals, we in their eyes remain no more than barins (masters). When we talk of 'the people' we have in mind the nation as a whole, but they mean only the common people. In their view what has taken place is not a political but a social revolution, of which we are the losers and they are the winners. They think that things should get better for them and that they should get worse for us. They do not believe us when we talk of our devotion to the soldiers. They say that we were the barins in the past, and that now it is their turn to be the barins over us. It is their revenge for the long centuries of servitude.
The peasant soldiers clearly did not share their officers' language of 'citizenship'. They did not see the revolution in the same terms of civic rights and duties. Their revolution in the trenches was another version of the social revolution in the countryside. The peasant conscripts naturally assumed that, if only they could overthrow their noble officers, then peace, bread and land would be the result. As one soldier put it at a meeting of his regiment in March to discuss the abdication of the Tsar:
Haven't you understood? What is going on is a ryvailoosbun! Don't you know what a ryvailoosbun is? It's when the people take all the power. And what's the people without us, the soldiers, with our guns? Bah! It's obvious — it means that the power belongs to us. And while we're about it, the country is ours too, and all the land is ours, and if we choose to fight or not is up to us as well. Now do you understand? That's a ryvailoosbun.39
This assertion of 'soldier power' was essential to the spirit of 'trench Bolshevism' which swept through the armed forces in 1917. Brusilov described it thus:
The soldiers wanted only one thing — peace, so that they could go home, rob the landowners, and live freely without paying any taxes or recognizing any authority. The soldiers veered towards Bolshevism because they believed that this was its programme. They did not have the slightest understanding of what either Communism, or the International,* or the division into workers and peasants, actually meant, but they imagined themselves at home living without laws or landowners. This anarchistic freedom is what they called 'Bolshevism'.
From the start of the revolution there was a sharp rise in the rate of desertion, especially among the non-Russian soldiers. Perhaps a million soldiers left their units between March and October. Most of these were soldiers 'absent without leave', men who had simply got fed up with fighting or sitting around unfed in the trenches and the garrisons, and had run off to the nearest town, where they ate and got drunk, went to brothels and often terrorized the local population. 'The streets are full of soldiers,' complained a Perm official in mid-March. 'They harass respectable ladies, ride around with prostitutes, and behave in public like hooligans. They know that no one dares to punish them.'40
* * * Russia's war aims occupied the centre-stage of politics during the spring of 1917. Indeed the whole of 1917 could be seen as a political battle between those who saw the revolution as a means of bringing the war to an end and those who saw the war as a means of bringing the revolution to an end. This was not just a political clash, it was also a social one. Left-wing propaganda made it clear that the war was being waged for different class interests. Enormous mistrust and even hatred of the 'bourgeoisie' and the 'imperialist' or 'capitalist' system could be stirred up by the stories of war-profiteering industrialists, merchants, 'kulaks' and black marketeers. Supporters of the war were instantly tarnished with the stigma of placing their own 'imperial' interests above those of the people. 'We see', declared a workers' resolution of the Dinamo factory in Moscow, 'that the senseless slaughter and destruction of the war is essential to no one but the parasite bourgeoisie.'41
The Provisional Government had so far shied away from the crucial question of its policy on the war. There were too many conflicting views within the cabinet. Miliukov, with the loose support of Guchkov, saw no reason to give up Russia's imperial ambitions, contained in the 'secret treaties' with the Allies, to gain control of Constantinople. As Russia's new Foreign Minister, he made this clear to the press and embassies abroad. But his views were sharply at odds with the Soviet peace campaign, launched on 14 March with its Appeal to the Peoples of All the World, in which it renounced the war aims of tsarist Russia and called on the peoples of all the belligerent nations to protest against the 'imperialist war'. The Soviet peace campaign was immediately endorsed by a series of military congresses; most soldiers declared their allegiance to the Soviet on the basis that it promised peace. Its campaign was also backed by the more liberal ministers in the Provisional Government, once the left-wing idea of a separate peace, favoured in certain Soviet circles, was abandoned, and instead, on 21 March, the Soviet adopted the moderate line of Revolutionary Defensism (national unity for the defence of Russia combined with an international peace campaign for a democratic settlement 'without annexations or indemnities').
* According to General Polovtsov, some of the soldiers thought the International was some sort of deity.
On 27 March the Provisional Government came out with its own Declaration of War Aims which was broadly in line with the Soviet peace campaign. But Miliukov told the Manchester Guardian that it would not alter Russia's commitment to her imperial allies. This began a bitter political struggle for the control of the Provisional Government's foreign policy. Miliukov was accused in democratic circles of speaking without cabinet authority. He was, in the words of one liberal newspaper, no more than a 'Minister of Personal Opinion'. The Soviet leaders, who saw the declaration of 27 March as a sacred achievement of the revolution, urged the Provisional Government to present it in the form of a diplomatic note to the Allies, which would give it effect as Russia's practical foreign policy, albeit without the approval of her Foreign Minister. After a great deal of fuss, Miliukov was forced to agree to this plan: the endorsement of the Soviet peace programme by a visiting delegation of French and British socialists had undercut his main objection that it would not be acceptable to the Allies. But when he came to despatch the declaration to the foreign embassies he added a covering note of his own in which he stressed, in contravention of the declaration, that Russia was still firmly committed to a 'decisive victory', including, at least by implication, the imperial war aims of the tsarist government.42
The effect of the Miliukov Note was like a red rag to the Soviet bull. Gorky, who had helped to write the Soviet Appeal of 14 March, denounced it as part of a 'bourgeois assault on the democracy with the purpose of prolonging the war'. Miliukov's action had, to be sure, greatly strengthened the Soviet message — that only 'the bourgeoisie' stood to gain from the 'imperialist war' — in the minds of the workers and soldiers. On 20 April thousands of armed workers and soldiers came out to demonstrate on the streets of Petrograd. Many of them carried banners with slogans calling for the removal of the 'ten bourgeois ministers', for an end to the war and for the appointment of a new revolutionary government. Linde, who had led the mutiny in February, was outraged by the Miliukov Note. He saw it as a betrayal of the revolution's fundamental promise, to bring the war to a democratic end. Inclined by nature to spontaneous protest (February had proved that), he led a battalion of the Finland Regiment in an armed demonstration to the Marinsky Palace in the expectation that the Soviet would call for the arrest of the government and the establishment of Soviet power.
By the time they reached the palace Linde's street army had been joined by crowds of angry soldiers from the Moscow and Pavlov regiments, so that it had swollen to 25,000 men. Linde's show of force was completely improvised — he had not consulted with anyone — but he was clearly under the illusion that the Soviet Executive (of which he was a member) would give its full approval to his actions. He was mistaken. The Executive had passed a resolution condemning Linde's demonstration on the grounds that it, the Soviet, was not prepared to assume power but, on the contrary, should help the Provisional Government to restore its own authority. It was only the far Left, the Vyborg Bolsheviks and the Anarchists, who had encouraged the demonstrators and had put the wild idea into their heads that they should 'get rid of the bourgeoisie'. The right-wing press immediately condemned Linde as a 'Bolshevik' and depicted his armed demonstration — even though it dispersed peacefully as soon as the Soviet leaders ordered it to — as a bloody attempt to carry out a coup. General Kornilov, the commander of the Petrograd garrison, wanted to disperse the demonstrators with his troops. But the cabinet was reluctant to use force against 'the people', and refused him permission. On 21 April fresh demonstrations took place. Angry protestors surrounded Miliukov's car and pounded it with their fists. Several people were killed when street fights broke out on the Nevsky Prospekt between the demonstrators and a counter-demonstration of right-wing patriots and monarchists.43 The war question had split the capital into two and brought it to the brink of a bloody civil war.
It was this threat of a civil war that finally spurred the Soviet leaders to join the government and bolster its authority. They had been moving towards the idea of a coalition for some time. Two main factors lay behind this. One was Irakli Tsereteli, the tall and handsome Georgian Menshevik with a pale El Greco-like face, who had returned from Siberian exile in mid-March and at once stamped his authority on the leadership of the Soviet. Tsereteli was, in Lvov's estimation, 'the only true statesman in the Soviet'. In his rigorously intellectual speeches he always appealed to the interests of the state rather than to class or party interests; and their gradual effect was to inculcate in the Soviet leaders a growing sense of their responsibility. They ceased to think and act like revolutionaries and began to see themselves as 'government men'. It was Tsereteli who had shaped the policy of Revolutionary Defensism, which united the Soviet leaders with the liberals on the question of the war and which formed the basis of their coalition. The other factor was the influence of the socialist party rank and file, especially in the provinces, who broadly welcomed the prospect of a coalition with the liberals. For a start, they had never been held back by the same ideological obsession as their party leaders in the capital about the need to form a 'bourgeois government'. They had placed pragmatism before party dogma (what choice did they have with the tiny size of the provincial intelligentsia?) and had joined the liberals in town-hall government from the very first days of the revolution. It was also felt by the rank and file that, if their leaders joined the government, they would gain more leverage over it. Many workers thought that, with the Mensheviks in charge of industry, they would soon gain better pay. Many soldiers thought that, with the SRs in charge of the war, they would soon gain peace.44
The establishment of the coalition, like the formation of the government in March, stemmed from the combined efforts of the Soviet leaders and the liberals to restore order on the Petrograd streets. The Soviet leaders were horrified by the violent demonstrations and the prospect of a civil war. It was they who took the lead in stopping the disorders, taking over control of the garrison and prohibiting any further demonstrations on 21 April. Effectively they were already assuming the responsibilities of government. The next day they issued a joint statement with the ministers condemning the Miliukov Note. This resolved the immediate crisis. But Lvov was now determined that the Soviet leaders should join his government to give it popular credibility. Miliukov's presence in the cabinet was the biggest obstacle — working with him would expose the Soviet leaders to the charge from the extreme Left that they supported the 'imperialist war' — and it was this that led them to reject the idea of a coalition on 28 April. But two days later everything was changed with the resignation of Guchkov, the Minister of War and Miliukov's only ally in the cabinet, in protest against the confirmation of the soldiers' rights by a government commission and the Soviet campaign against Miliukov. Lvov, meanwhile, began to plot Miliukov's removal. He promised Tsereteli that he would force Miliukov out of the cabinet if the Soviet leaders agreed to join a coalition government. This, along with Lvov's own threat to resign if Tsereteli did not agree, was enough to convince the Menshevik leader that a coalition was now both possible and essential to end the crisis of authority, which the extreme Right or Left might easily exploit, and it was largely the force of his reasoning that finally persuaded the Soviet Executive to vote in its favour on 2 May by 44 votes to 19.45
Three days later the new cabinet was announced. It was agreed, in deference to Menshevik dogma, that the socialists should occupy only a minority of the cabinet posts (they took six out of the sixteen), and that to preserve the liberal conception of the government as a national institution, above party or class interests, they should join the cabinet as private individuals rather than as members of the Soviet. Chernov took Agriculture, Kerensky War, Skobelev Labour, while Tsereteli, whose time was spent mostly in the Soviet, was persuaded to accept the minor post of Posts and Telegraphs, which would allow him to keep one foot in each camp. Chernov called Tsereteli the 'Minister of General Affairs', while Sukhanov dubbed him the 'Commissar of the Government in the Soviet'. It is certainly true that Tsereteli emerged as the central figure of the coalition. Lvov was dependent on him to keep the socialist leaders onside, and he kept him in his 'inner cabinet' (together with the five Minister-Freemasons: Kerensky, Tereshchenko, Nekrasov, Konovalov and Lvov) which decided the general strategy.46
The formation of the Coalition, which had been intended to reinforce the democratic centre, had the opposite effect. It accelerated the political and social polarization that led to the outbreak of the civil war in October. On the one hand, most of the provincial rank and file of the Kadets moved with their party leader Miliukov, who had resigned on 4 May, into right-wing opposition against the coalition government. Increasingly they abandoned their liberal self-image as a party of the nation as a whole and began to portray themselves as a party for the defence of bourgeois class interests, property rights, law and order and the Russian Empire. Within the Soviet camp, on the other hand, there was a steady drift towards the Left as the mass of the workers and the peasants became increasingly disillusioned with the failure of the socialists to use their position in the government to speed up the process of social reform or to bring about a democratic peace. The left-wing SRs and Mensheviks, who had been opposed to the coalition, were correct to warn their party colleagues that by entering the government, and by sharing in the blame for its shortcomings, they were bound to lose popular support. For the socialists were henceforth to be 'statesmen', they could no longer act like 'revolutionaries', and this obliged them to resist what they now called the growing 'anarchy' — the peasant seizures of the land, the workers' strikes and the breakdown of army discipline — in the interests of the state. Instead of using their popular mandate to take power for themselves, as they could have done in the April crisis, the Soviet leaders chose instead to lend their support to a liberal government which had already been discredited. They increasingly became seen as the guardians of a 'bourgeois' state, and the initiative for the revolution, for bread, land and peace, was taken up by the Bolsheviks.