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In 1912, Petrovsky was elected a deputy to the Russian 4th State Duma as a representative of workers of the Yekaterinoslav Governorate for Bolshevik faction. During this time he also was a chief editor of Pravda. In January 1913, Petrovsky was included into the Central Committee of RSDRP. It is known that in the Duma he spoke on thirty-two occasions, while the text of his 21st speech was prepared personally by Vladimir Lenin. In his speeches Petrovsky was addressing the issues related to improving working conditions and life of miners and workers of Donets basin.
With the start of the Great War in November 1914, he was arrested along with the other six Bolshevik members of the parliament and was sent into permanent exile on February 1915.
After the October Revolution, Petrovsky was appointed People's Commissar for the Interior Affairs on November 30, 1917. In this post, he oversaw the activities of the Cheka and was one of the advocates of the Red Terror, he wrote in his order "A huge number of hostages has to be taken to the bourgeoisie, in cases of resistance these hostages have to be shot in masses(....) No hesitation in the application of the terror". He was a member of the Russian delegation during signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1917.