From the Head of Zeus: The Petrograd Soviet’s Rise and First Days, 27 February—2 March 1917

Michael Melancon


This essay explores the birth and earliest steps of the Petrograd Soviet during late February and early March 1917. It deploys a large array of evidence, new and old, to detail the events in a consecutive narrative, plus analysis that deepens our understanding of what occurred. The analysis focuses special attention on the persons and groups directly responsible for organizing the soviet, as well as on its earliest measures, such as the establishment of military security for the city, the issuing of Order No. 1, and the sharing of power with the State Duma. It clearly shows that an array of socialist leaders, who met and worked together prior to and during the February Revolution, took steps beginning no later than 24 February to summon the soviet and became the leadership group in the soviet itself, thus further challenging the traditional concept of a leaderless, spontaneous revolution. New evidence also describes how socialist soldiers associated with the soldiers’ section of the soviet composed Order No. 1, which, as is well known, democratized the Russian Army in one stroke and, less well known, formulated for the fi rst time the “to the extent that” formula that came to underlie the sharing of power between the Petrograd Soviet and the new Provisional Government several days later. Cumulatively, the new analysis and data suggest that the Petrograd Soviet, which immediately began to play a crucial role in determining Russia’s fate, refl ected the entire history of Russia’s socialist movement.

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