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Page 19 ( 7 pages)
May 1917 began full of hope for some and a growing sense of dread for others. Russians had been experiencing freedom for two months, and this freedom was indeed momentous: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience. Political prisoners had been released, and the country was alive with rallies, speeches, and debate. Finally Russians had their long-fought freedom.
But now that they had freedom, what were they supposed to do with it?
This new freedom was put to use first and most radically by Russia’s soldiers, who by 1917 had been sitting in trenches feeding lice for three years. By March they had begun to form soldier’s committees, and by May these committees were wielding tremendous power over the army.
General Alexei Brusilov, acclaimed for his successful 1915 offensive, rejoiced at the revolution. In May, the Provisional Government even named him Commander-in-Chief. But not for long. Brusilov quickly saw that the army had become utterly unmanageable. If the men forced into service under the tsar refused to fight, maybe they could be inspired by volunteers full of enthusiasm for Russia’s new, post-revolutionary state?
On May 22 he issued an order:
To stir a revolutionary spirit of attack in the army, we must form special revolutionary strike battalions made up of volunteer recruits from central Russia, so as to instill faith in the army that the entire Russian people is behind them in the cause of a swift peace, and in the brotherhood of peoples, and so that when the revolutionary battalions placed in the most important combat sectors attack, their rush forward will draw the hesitant along with them.
The revolutionaries, however, preferred holding rallies away from the front lines and had little desire to “draw the hesitant” into a fighting spirit. The offensive that Brusilov launched in June immediately fell apart, mostly because the soldiers literally had to be cajoled into attacking.
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