Everyone knows when the October Revolution was. In November. But when was the February Revolution, which preceded it? Naturally, in March. Namely on March 8, Women’s Day.
Demonstration of the female workers of the Putilov Plant in Petrograd (today St. Petersburg) on 8 March 1917 (according to the Julian calendar, 22 February). The banners read: “Feed the children of the defenders of the motherland!” “Increase payments to the soldiers’ families – defenders of freedom and world peace!”
Women’s Day was first held on 8 March exactly a century ago, in 1914. Although female workers all over America and Europe had celebrated it since 1908 on one of the first Sundays of March, increasingly linking it to the clamor for women’s voting rights, this fell on 8 March for the first time in 1914, on the eve of World War I. And for the second time in 1917, on the eve of the revolution.
On that Sunday nearly fifty thousand female workers of Petrograd – the places of the men who had been called up were largely occupied by women in most factories – took to the streets, demanding bread and the end of the war. The protests continued the next day, and on the third day all the Petrograd plant workers went on strike. The Duma vainly sought help from the Tsar on the front, but he did not perceive the danger, and furiously dissolved the Duma. The troops ordered to defend the capital were increasingly sympathetic to the protesters. On 13 March, recalling the practice of the revolution of 1905, workers’ and soldiers’ councils were formed. At the request of the Duma representatives, the Tsar resigned, and a provisional government was established. And ten day later, Germany, to further destabilize the situation in Russia, sent home from Swiss exile, with German passports and at German state expense, Lenin and his companions, who in the April theses proclaimed the continuation of the revolution until the final victory of communism.
The following 54 photos, documenting the first, hectic days of the February Revolution, were only recently published on the internet. The originals are preserved in the Russian State Museum of Political History, and according to the meagre data available, they come from Ion Dicescu’s collection.
Ion Dicescu, Russian name Ivan Osipovich Dik (1893-1938), was born the son of a house-painter in Bucharest. At the age of 18 he joined the Social Democratic Party, and became a journalist for the party’s newspaper. In 1916, when Romania entered WWI, he fought in Transylvania. He was wounded during the retreat, and he was treated in one of the Romanian field hospitals established in allied Russia. At the beginning of 1917 he was taken to St. Petersburg, where he got in contact with the Bolshevik Party. In April he joined the party, and became a journalist for Pravda. From the October Revolution on he fought with the Red Guards. In 1924, together with other Romanian communists in exile, he made a formal proposal for establishing the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova, which at that time was only a narrow strip – roughly today’s Transdnistrian Republic – in preparation for the re-annexation of Romanian Bessarabia. In 1938, he was executed on charges of spying.
The photos preserved in the so-called Dicescu collection were probably not taken by Dicescu himself. Their excellent compositions speak of first-rate press photographers, of which – as we will later write – there were more than one in St. Petersburg at the beginning of the century. The captions written on the pictures might suggest that they are editorial duplicates of press photos made or sold to Pravda. It would be worth checking to see if they were published in Pravda or in other dailies. It is certain that after the October Revolution some of them were published in postcard format. But about this we will write more in a subsequent post.
“23 March. The funeral of the victims of the revolution. Funeral procession on the Nevsky Prospect.” The banner reads: “You fell victim in the fatal combat”, the opening verse of the workers’ funeral march. On its various versions see our earlier post.