Soviet Order Number 1 was issued March 14, 1917 and was the first
official decree of The
Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers'
Deputies. The order was issued following the
February Revolution in
response to actions taken the day before by the Provisional Committee
of the State Duma, headed by Mikhail Vladimirovich Rodzianko. On
February 28, the Provisional Committee, acting as a government
following the disintegration of Tsarist authority in Petrograd and
fearing that the soldiers who had gone over to the revolution on
February 26-27 (O.S.) without their officers (who had generally fled)
constituted a potentially uncontrollable mob that might threaten the
Duma, issued an order through the Military Commission of the Duma
calling on the soldiers to return to their barracks and to obey their
officers. The soldiers were skeptical of this order; for one thing,
they saw Rodzianko as too close to the
Tsar (he had been Chairman of
the Fourth Duma, which was seen as quite supportive of the Tsar). Some
soldiers perhaps feared that in sending them back to their barracks,
he was attempting to quash the Revolution, though most were concerned
that in being sent back to the barracks they would be placed under
their old commanders whose heavy-handedness had led them to mutiny on
the 26th; thus their grievances would go unaddressed. In response, the
Petrograd Soviet issued Order Number 1.
The order instructed soldiers and sailors to obey their officers and
the Provisional Government only if their orders did not contradict the
decrees of the Petrograd Soviet. It also called on units to elect
representatives to the Soviet and for each unit to elect a committee
which would run the unit. All weapons were to be handed over to these
committees "and shall by no means be issued to the officers, not even
at their insistence." The order also allowed soldiers to dispense with
standing to attention and saluting when off duty, although while on
duty strict military discipline was to be maintained. Officers were no
longer to be addressed as "Your Excellency" but rather as "Sir"
("Gospodin", in Russian). Soldiers of all ranks were to be addressed
formally (with "vy" instead of "ty").
There is a widespread belief that Order Number 1 infamously allowed
for the election of officers, thus completely undermining military
discipline. The order, however, actually makes no provision for the
election of officers. The elections spoken of in the order itself are
for representatives to the Petrograd Soviet. The discrepancy is
explained by the fact that a proclamation was issued by the Russian
Socialist Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP - essentially the Communists,
divided between the
Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks) and the Petrograd
Committee of Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) at about the same time
calling on "Comrade Soldiers" to "elect for yourself platoon, company
and regimental commanders." Part of the debate leading up to Order
Number 1 included talk of "sorting out" unfriendly (pro-Tsarist or
anti-revolutionary) officers and excluding them from units. This may
have been taken as a call for the election of officers. However, while
unsympathetic, untrustworthy, or undesirable officers were blacklisted
and forced out of their units, the actual election of officers did not
The order's impact
The order was highly controversial.
Leon Trotsky may have called it
"the only worthy document of February Revolution," but others have
seen the measure as an effort to prevent continuation of Russia's war
effort by crippling the government's control of the military, or even
as part of a plot by the
Bolsheviks to undermine the Provisional
Government. Many scholars have argued that, in the former sense, it
succeeded. Thus, Michael Florinsky wrote that "it struck at the very
heart of army discipline and contributed powerfully to the breakdown
of the armed forces." As to the latter theory of a Bolshevik plot,
Katkov advanced this theory, see George Katkov,
That being said, the goal of those who issued the order was to restore
discipline to the army and address the problem of how to deal with
officers who were said to be returning to their units after the
February Revolution yet were continuing to lord it over and abuse
their troops (as several soldiers complained before the Petrograd
Soviet during the debate over the order). It was not meant to apply to
the armies at the front (as the sixth paragraph of the order makes
clear, it was only to apply while soldiers were off duty), and thus
it is unclear the extent to which Order Number 1 alone led to the
breakdown of the Russian Army. On the other hand its immediate impact
was very clear. No more than 48 hours after its proclamation, the
Executive Committee tried to issue “Order Number Two” in an
unsuccessful attempt “to annul the first order, limiting its
application to the Petrograd military district”. It was “in
vain”, continued Leon Trotsky, “Order Number One was
^ N. Aveev, Revoliutsyia 1917 god (khronika sobitii) (Moscow, 1923),
vol. 1, p. 40; Boyd, "The Origins of Order Number 1," 360.
^ A. G. Shlyapnikov, Semnatsadtyi god (Moscow, 1925-31), vol. 1, p.
170; John Boyd, "The Origins of Order Number 1" Soviet Studies 19, No.
3 (1967): 359-372.
^ The full text was published in Izvestia the following day. It was
printed again in Izvestia in July 1917 and in Pravda in March 1917. It
is translated in Boyd, "The Origins of Order Number 1," 359-360.
^ See for example, Leonard Schapiro, The Origin of the Communist
Autocracy (London, 1956), 23.
^ See Boyd, "the Origin of Order Number 1," 369-70.
^ Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution. Max Eastman, ed.
(London, 1965), 291; Boyd, Boyd, "The Origins of Order Number 1," 359.
^ Michael Florinsky: Russia: A History and an Interpretation (New
York, 1964), vol. 2, p. 1394.
^ Russia 1917: The
February Revolution (London, 1967), 367ff; Boyd,
"the Origins of Order Number 1, 361.
^ Boyd, "The Origins of Order Number 1," 371-372.
^ Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution. (London, Penguin
Books, 2017), 200
The Text of Or