July 17

This Day in History

World War I

Jul 17, 1917:

Fighting in the streets of Petrograd, Russia

On this day in 1917, a three-day stretch of fighting in the streets peaks in Petrograd after the provisional government falls temporarily amid anger and frustration within and outside the army due to the continuing hardships caused by Russia's participation in World War I.

Despite devastating losses on the Eastern Front in 1916, the provisional Russian government–which succeeded to power after the abdication of Czar Nicholas II in March–had rejected all calls for peace. Alexander Kerensky, appointed minister of war in the spring of 1917, was determined to reinvigorate the Russian war effort, installing the victorious General Alexei Brusilov as commander in chief of the Russian forces and making plans to go back on the offensive within months. The disintegration and despair within the army continued, however, as some 30,000 deserters were reported from the front every day. At Kerensky's command, Brusilov launched another major offensive on July 1, the same day a massive peace demonstration was held in Petrograd.

Though the new offensive resulted in heavy losses for the Russians, it was at home where the provisional government received its greatest threat. On July 15, 1917, an uprising in Petrograd encouraged by Leon Trotsky, an official of the Bolshevik Party–the radical socialist movement led by Vladimir Lenin, recently returned from exile due to German help–succeeded in briefly toppling the provisional government. The Bolsheviks saw their opportunity and attempted to seize power in Petrograd, as fighting broke out in the streets. The violence peaked on July 17. The following day, officers loyal to the provisional government destroyed the offices of the Bolshevik newspaper, Pravda. Lenin, sensing the time was not yet ripe for revolution, went into hiding–albeit temporarily–and Kerensky took charge, restoring order and continuing his efforts to salvage the Russian war effort.

Months later, however, Lenin emerged again, as the Bolsheviks succeeded in wresting power in Russia from the army in November amid massive strikes and rebellions in the streets; almost immediately after taking power, the Bolsheviks moved towards an armistice with the Central Powers, ending Russia's involvement in World War I.

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