July Days of 1917

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Abortive Bolshevik uprising in Petrograd in July 1917.

On July 35, 1917, in Petrograd, militant soldiers, sailors, and factory workers staged an abortive uprising. For weeks, local Bolshevik, Anarchist, and Left Socialist Revolutionary organizers had agitated against the Provisional Government and for immediate transfer of power to the Soviets of Workers and Soldiers Deputies. This call to action resonated with workers engaged in bitter labor conflicts and among garrison soldiers facing deployment to the front. July 3 witnessed a flurry of meetings, demonstrations, and strikes. That evening tens of thousands of soldiers and workers, led by left socialist agitators, marched on the city center and insisted that the Soviet assume power. However, the Soviet's Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary leaders, already engulfed in a crisis in the government coalition, refused.

The Bolshevik Military Organization and Petersburg Committee pushed for an uprising while the Central Committee wavered. Leon Trotsky, Grigory Zinoviev, and Lev Kamenev initially urged restraint but tentatively endorsed the demonstrations in the early hours of July 4. The party's leader, Vladimir Lenin, remained absent from Petrograd until midday.

On July 4 huge crowds of armed workers, soldiers, and sailors controlled the city's streets; nearly four hundred people died in scattered fighting and random shootings. Crowds again demanded that unwilling Soviet leaders accept power. Lenin and the Central Committee meanwhile debated the possibility of a successful seizure of power. By evening, the tenor of events had changed dramatically. When the government publicly alleged that Lenin was a German agent, several garrison units turned against the demonstrations. Rumor spread that soldiers were marching on Petrograd to defend the government. By morning on July 5, the inchoate seizure of power collapsed. The government arrested several Bolshevik leaders, on whom it blamed the uprising. Lenin went into hiding, and his party suffered a significant temporary decline.

The July Days resonated throughout Russiarallies for Soviet power, for instance, took place in Moscow, Saratov, Krasnoyarsk, and other provincial citiesbut its chief significance lay in exposing the fragility of the Provisional Government and in accelerating the polarization of Russian politics and society.


Rabinowitch, Alexander. (1968). Prelude to Revolution: The Petrograd Bolsheviks and the July 1917 Uprising. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Wade, Rex A. (2000). The Russian Revolution, 1917. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Michael C. Hickey