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Local Revolutions

The revolution of 1917 was part of a general crisis of authority. There was a rejection of not just the state but of all figures of authority: judges, policemen, government officials, army and navy officers, priests, teachers, employers, landowners, village elders, patriarchal fathers and husbands. There were lots of revolutions going on.

Although the Soviet was arguably the only real authority, even it had limited control over revolutions in the provinces. Local towns and regions, villages behaved as if they were independent of the state.

As in 1905, the village commune was the organizing kernel of the revolution on the land, although the peasants also elected their own ad hoc committees (some of them 'soviets'), which by and large ignored the calls of the Provisional Government to wait for the Constituent Assembly to resolve the land question and passed their own 'laws' to legitimize the peasant seizures of the gentry's property.

Workers' expectations rocketed. Over half a million workers went on strike between April and July. Their demands were increasingly political: the 8-hour day was seen by workers as a symbol of their rights and dignity as 'citizens'.

The trade unions and the Soviets resumed from where they had left off in 1905-6. But these were overtaken by two innovations of 1917: the factory committees, which supervised the management ('workers' control') to prevent closures and lay-offs - a tactic threatened by the capitalists to 'make the workers come to their senses'; and the Red Guards, which were formed to defend the factories.

Soldiers too had their own committees, which supervised relations with the officers and discussed their 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 on the grounds that the revolution had been made by the soldiers and so power should belong them.

As the guardian of the Russian state, the Provisional Government saw it as their primary duty to preserve its imperial boundaries until the conclusion of the war and the resolution of the nationalities question by the Constituent Assembly. This did not rule out the possibility of conceding, as an interim measure, rights of local self-rule and cultural freedoms to the non-Russian territories. But it did mean opposing nationalist demands for independence.

For much of 1917 most of the nationalist movement called for more autonomy within a federal Russian state. Only in Poland and Finland were there demands for independence from the start. Bur demands for independence grew. In Finland and Ukraine the nationalist-dominated parliaments had both declared their independence from Russia by the end of June.

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