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Moscow becomes the capital of the Soviet state

12 March 1918

During several centuries until 1712 Moscow was the capital of the Russian state. When the capital was officially transferred to St.-Petersburg, Moscow reserved some of the duties of the capital, remaining the first capital city, the place of coronation of the Russian tsars.

In the end of summer – beginning of autumn 1917 a complicated internal political situation and the approach of German forces to Petrograd forced the Provisional government to consider the idea of moving to Moscow. The capital was announced to be in danger and on October 6 the Provisional government issued the decree on transferring of the primary state institutions to Moscow. The beginning of evacuation was planned for October 12. As to the Provisional government it intended to leave the capital in the beginning of November but did not take any steps toward it.

In the end of February of 1918 due to the German offensive endangering the closest approaches to Petrograd, the issue of transfer the capital to Moscow arose before the Soviet government.

On February 26, 1918 in Petrograd took place the conference of the Soviet of People’s Commissars. At the conference V. I. Lenin elaborated a project of the decree on evacuation of the government to Moscow. It stated: 1. Choose Moscow as the location; 2. Every office must evacuate a minimum number of leaders of the central administration, 20-30 people maximum (with families); 3. Immediately and at any price evacuate the State bank, gold and the dispatch office for the state papers; 4. Begin the unloading of Moscow values.

The real plans of leaving were known only by the selected few. The preparation for the departure and departure itself were kept secret. The secrecy was very strict. The government feared not only acts of terror but also the disturbances that could begin when people learned about the leaving for Moscow of the entire governing body of the Soviet republic.

The report on the government move was published in ‘Pravda’ newspaper when the members of the all-Russian Central Executive Committee and the Soviet of People’s Commissars had already left Petrograd. The address of the Military-revolutionary committee under the Petrograd Soviet to Petrograd citizens said: ‘The Soviet of People’s Commissars and the Central Executive Committee left for Moscow to participate in the all-Russian Soviet congress.

Under the decree of the all-Union Central Executive Committee all the government institutions were obliged to leave Petrograd for Moscow on March 11-12.

On March 12, 1918 Moscow became the capital once more but now it was the capital of the Soviet state.

On March 16, 1918 the Extraordinary 4th all-Russian congress of Soviet authorized the government decision appending the instructions. The instructions said: ‘In the state of the current crisis of the Russian revolution the position of Petrograd as the capital has dramatically changed. Thus the congress resolves to transfer for the time being the capital of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic from Petrograd to Moscow until the abovementioned state changes’.

Lit.: О перенесении столицы // Стенографический отчет чрезвычайного IV съезда Советов. Л., 1920; То же [Электронный ресурс]. URL: http://constitution.garant.ru/history/act1600-1918/5329/; Троцкий Л. Перенесение столицы в Москву // Троцкий Л. Сочинения. Т. 17. Ч. 1. М. ; Л., 1926. Гл. I.2.

From the Presidential library materials:

Moving of the Soviet Government from Petrograd to Moscow, March 14-16, 1918: [fragments of newsreels]. St. Petersburg, 2011.