In the relentless whirl of the Russian Revolution in 1917, workers and revolutionaries needed ways to spread their news and make arguments.
Soviets—councils of workers and soldiers— sprang up after the February Revolution. They quickly began producing their own newspapers too.
In the capital Petrograd, revolutionaries and workers occupied and took over a printing shop. They used it to print Izvestia—Russian for “news” or “reports”—the daily paper of the Petrograd soviet.
Other cities set up their own Izvestias, which reported the fierce debates that went on inside soviets and factory committees, and published the decisions they made.
This helped soviets across Russia keep up to date. It meant that ordinary people could be involved in the daily life of the soviets. And it was a vital counterweight to the capitalist newspapers.
When Vladimir Lenin of the revolutionary Bolshevik party returned to Russia from exile, capitalist newspapers campaigned to discredit him.
The Petrograd Izvestia defended Lenin as “a man who has given his whole life to the service of the working class, the service of the insulted and oppressed.”
Arguments made by Izvestia newspapers often reflected the views of the party with most influence in the soviet.
The Petrograd Izvestia was edited by Fyodor Dan, a leading member of the Menshevik party.
While defending Lenin against the capitalist press, it criticised the Bolsheviks for calling for insurrection against the Provisional Government—something the Mensheviks opposed.
The organisation which forms round this newspaper will be ready for everythingLenin
Most political parties or factions had their own newspaper. The Mensheviks published two newspapers during 1917—Novaya Zhizn (New Life) and Rabochaya Dyelo (Workers’ Cause).
The Bolsheviks produced Pravda, meaning truth.Unlike the capitalist press, Pravda spoke of the lives and struggles of ordinary workers.
Bolshevik Grigory Zinoviev claimed Pravda gave half the space in its pages to letters and reports from workers.
“These letters spoke of the everyday life in the factory or workshop, barracks or factory district. In simple language, the details were given of the privations and oppression to which the workers are subjected,” he said. “These letters better than anything else in the world expressed the growing and seething protests which afterwards burst out in the great revolution”.
But the paper didn’t just reflect workers’ lives. It also linked them to bigger political questions and pointed them towards revolution.
Pravda helped workers organise and fight around the Bolsheviks. In 1903, Lenin said a revolutionary paper “may be compared to the scaffolding erected around a building under construction.
“The organisation which forms round this newspaper will be ready for everything.”
After workers overthrew the capitalist government in October, Izvestia became the paper of the soviet state. Pravda became the paper of the Communist Party, as the Bolsheviks renamed themselves.
A growing bureaucracy behind Joseph Stalin waged a counter-revolution in the 1920s. Izvestia and Pravda became propaganda papers for the Stalinist state and Communist Party.
Descendants of Izvestia and Pravda still exist in Russia today, although they’ve got nothing in common with the revolutionary papers of 1917.
But the legacy of a revolutionary press—focused on workers’ struggles—is worth learning from.