Throughout the month of June, the First All-Russia Congress of Soviets was held in Petrograd. Out of 784 delegates who had a full vote, the Bolsheviks numbered 105; though they were a minority, their voice was loud and clear. As the Congress discussed the future of Russia, doubt was expressed as to whether any existing party was actually willing to accept the responsibility of leading the nation. As if on cue, Lenin promptly stood up and announced, “There is such a party!” Laughter was reportedly heard following Lenin’s pronouncement, and few took him seriously. To Lenin, however, it was no joke.
On June 9, the Bolsheviks made an open proclamation calling for civilians and soldiers alike to fill the streets of the capital and to condemn the provisional government and demand an immediate end to the war. Though the proclamation called on demonstrators to state their demands “calmly and convincingly, as behooves the strong,” the Bolsheviks’ true intention, as always, was to sponsor a violent uprising that would topple the government. That evening, the Congress of Soviets, anticipating the potential for violence, prohibited demonstrations for a period of several days. The Bolsheviks gave in and called off the demonstration, realizing that they still lacked adequate support to carry off a revolution.
In June, Minister of War Alexander Kerensky ordered the Russian army to undertake a renewed offensive along the Austrian front in World War I. Prior to the offensive’s start, Kerensky personally toured the front and delivered rousing speeches to the troops. Once under way, the Russian troops made brief progress against the Austrians and even captured several thousand prisoners. Within a few days, however, German reinforcements appeared, and the Russian troops fled in a general panic.
The operation was a complete failure and weakened Kerensky politically. Recognizing another opportunity, Lenin immediately stepped up his efforts to agitate the Russian masses and eagerly waited for the right moment to stage an armed uprising.
On June 30, the Petrograd Machine Gun Regiment, one of the largest and most politically volatile military regiments in the city, was ordered to report for duty on the front. Members of the regiment immediately began to protest, and the ever-watchful Bolsheviks lost no time in directing the full strength of their propaganda machine at whipping the soldiers’ discontent into a frenzy.
On July 3, Bolshevik leaders decided to try to use the regiment, in combination with their own armed forces and 20,000 sailors from a nearby naval base, to take over the Petrograd Soviet. The Bolsheviks called for an extraordinary meeting of the workers’ section of the Soviet, and the next day, July 4, an armed mob began to assemble outside the Tauride Palace, where the Petrograd Soviet had its headquarters.