Further information on viewing conditions, site index and the site Google search facility
Frost's Meditations Logo

In the Gregorian calendar, November 8th 1917 marks the critical date of the Russian Revolution -- some ninety years ago.(Note in 1917 Russia was still using the Julian calendar -- hence period references show an October date)

Russian Revolution (1917)


The Russian Revolution (1917) was a series of economic and social upheavals in Russia, involving first the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy, and then the overthrow of the liberal and moderate-socialist Provisional Government, resulting in the establishment of Soviet power under the control of the Bolshevik party. This eventually led to the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1922, which lasted until its dissolution in 1991. It resulted in the overthrow of the autocratic rule of the Czars and the building up of socialism in the USSR.

Constituent events Background Economic and social changes Political issues
World War I February Revolution Between February &  throughout
October: "Dual Power"
October Revolution
Death of the
royal family
Civil war The Russian revolution
and the world
See also

Constituent events
The February Revolution of 1917 (March 1917 of the Gregorian calendar), which led directly to the fall of the autocracy of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the last Tsar of Russia, and which sought to establish in its place a democratic republic. Leon Trotsky released Bolshevik leaders hoping they would join the provisional government but instead they became the red guard (later the red army). Vladimir Lenin created ten Bolshevik policies, one entitled "Abolish all State Debt", meaning any debt the prior country held to other countries was now considered eliminated.
   
A period of dual power, in which the Provisional Government held state power and the national network of Soviets, led by socialists, had the allegiance of the lower-classes and the political Left. The Mensheviks were also fighting for control over the country at this time.
   
The October Revolution (November of the Gregorian calendar), in which the Bolshevik party, led by Vladimir Lenin, and the workers' Soviets, overthrew the Provisional Government and brought about a quite dramatic change in the social structure of Russia, as well as paving the way for the USSR.
   
    While many notable historical events occurred in Moscow and St. Petersburg, there was also a broadly-based movement in cities throughout the country, among national minorities throughout the empire, and in the rural areas, where peasants seized and redistributed land.

Background
At the start of 1917, a turning point in Russian history, the country was ripe for revolution—and, indeed, this year saw two very distinct ones: the first, known as the February Revolution, growing rapidly, creating expanded social opportunities but also great uncertainty. Peasant villagers more and more often migrated between agrarian and industrial work environments, and many relocated entirely, creating a growing urban labor force. A middle class of white-collar employees, businessmen and professionals (the latter group comprising doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, engineers, etc.) was on the rise. Even nobles had to find new ways to subsist in this changing economy, and contemporaries spoke of new classes forming (proletarians and capitalists, for example), although these classes were also divided along crisscrossing lines of status, gender, age, ethnicity, and belief.

If anything, it was becoming harder to speak of clearly-defined social groups or boundaries. Not only were groups fractured in various ways, their defining boundaries were also increasingly blurred by migrating peasants, worker intellectuals, gentry professionals, and the like. Almost everyone felt that the texture of their lives was transformed by a spreading commercial culture which remade the surfaces of material life (buildings, store fronts, advertisements, fashion, clocks and machines) and nurtured new objects of desire.

By 1917, the growth of political consciousness, the impact of revolutionary ideas, and the weak and inefficient system of government (which had been debilitated further by its participation in the World War I), should have convinced the emperor, Nicholas II to have taken the necessary steps towards reform. In January 1917, in fact, Sir George Buchanan, the British Ambassador in Russia, advised the emperor to "break down the barrier that separates you from your people to regain their confidence." He received little response from Nicholas.

The people of Russia resented the autocracy of Nicholas II and the corrupt and anachronistic elements in his government. He was out of touch with the needs and aspirations of the Russian people, the vast majority of whom were victims of the wretched socio-economic conditions which prevailed. Socially, Tsarist Russia stood well behind the rest of Europe in its industry and farming, resulting in few opportunities for fair advancement on the part of peasants and industrial workers. Economically, widespread inflation and food shortages in Russia contributed to the revolution. Militarily, inadequate supplies, logistics, and weaponry led to heavy losses that the Russians suffered during World War I; this further strengthened Russia's view of Nicholas II as weak and unfit to rule. Ultimately, these factors, coupled with the development of revolutionary ideas and movements (particularly since the 1905 Bloody Sunday Massacre) led to the Russian Revolution.


Economic and social changes
An elementary theory of property, common to many peasants, that land should belong to those who work it. At the same time, peasant life and culture was changing constantly. Change was facilitated by the physical movement of growing numbers of peasant villagers who migrated to and from industrial and urban environments, but also by the migration of city culture into the village through material goods, the press, and word of mouth.

Workers also had good reasons for discontent: overcrowded housing with often deplorable sanitary conditions, long hours at work (on the eve of the war a 10-hour workday six days a week was the average and many were working 11–12 hours a day by 1916), constant risk of injury and death from very poor safety and sanitary conditions, harsh discipline (not only rules and fines, but foremen’s fists), and inadequate wages (made worse after 1914 by steep war-time increases in the cost of living). At the same time, urban industrial life was full of benefits, though these could be just as dangerous, from the point of view of social and political stability, as the hardships. There were many encouragements to expect more from life. Acquiring new skills gave many workers a sense of self respect and confidence, heightening expectations and desires. Living in cities, workers encountered material goods such as they had never seen while in the village. Most important, living in cities, they were exposed to new ideas about the social and political order.

The social causes of the Russian Revolution mainly came from centuries of oppression towards the lower classes by the Tsarist regime and Nicholas's failures in World War I. While rural agrarian peasants had been emancipated from serfdom in 1861, they still resented paying redemption payments to the state, and demanded communal tender of the land they worked. The problem was further compounded by the failure of Sergei Witte's land reforms of the early 1900s. Increasing peasant disturbances and sometimes full revolts occurred, with the goal of securing ownership of their land. Russia consisted mainly of poor farming peasants, with 1.5% of the population owning 25% of the land.

The rapid industrialization of Russia also resulted in urban overcrowding and poor conditions for urban industrial workers (as mentioned above). Between 1890 and 1910, the population of the capital of St. Petersburg swelled from 1,033,600 to 1,905,600, with Moscow experiencing similar growth. This created a new 'proletariat' which, due to being crowded together in the cities, was much more likely to protest and go on strike than the peasantry had been in previous times. In one 1904 survey, it was found that an average of sixteen people shared each apartment in St. Petersburg, with six people per room. There was also no running water, and piles of human waste were a threat to the health of the workers. The poor conditions only aggravated the situation, with the number of strikes and incidents of public disorder rapidly increasing in the years shortly before World War I.

World War I only added to the chaos. Conscription swept up the unwilling in all parts of Russia. The vast demand for factory production of war supplies and workers caused many more labor riots and strikes. Conscription stripped skilled workers from the cities, who had to be replaced with unskilled peasants, and then, when famine began to hit due to the poor railway system, workers abandoned the cities in droves to look for food. Finally, the soldiers themselves, who suffered from a lack of equipment and protection from the elements, began to turn against the Tsar. This was mainly because as the war progressed, many of the officers who were loyal to the Tsar were killed, and they were replaced with discontented conscripts from the major cities who were much less loyal to the Tsar.


Political issues
Politically, many Russians, as well as non-Russian subjects of the crown, had reason to be dissatisfied with the existing autocratic system. Nicholas II was a deeply conservative ruler. His criteria of virtue—orderliness, family, and duty—were viewed as both personal ideals for a moral individual and rules for society and politics. Individuals and society alike were expected to show self-restraint, devotion to community and hierarchy, and a spirit of duty to country and tradition. Religious faith helped bind all this together: as a source of comfort and reassurance in the face of contradictory conditions, as a source of insight into the divine will, as a source of state power and authority. Indeed, perhaps more than any other modern monarch, Nicholas II attached himself and the future of his dynasty to the myth of the ruler as saintly and blessed father to his people. This inspiring faith, many historians have argued, was blinding: unable to believe that his power was not from God and the true Russian people were not as devoted to him as he felt he was to them, he was unwilling to allow the democratic reforms that might have prevented revolution, and when, after the 1905 revolution, he allowed limited civil rights and democratic representation, he tried to limit these in every possible way, in order to preserve his autocratic authority.

At the same time, the desire for democratic participation was strong. Notwithstanding stereotypes about Russian political culture, Russia had a long tradition of democratic thought. Since the end of the eighteenth century, a whole pantheon of Russian intellectuals promoted ideals about the dignity and rights of the individual and the ethical and practical necessity of civil rights and democratic representation. These ideas were reflected most obviously among Russia’s liberals, though populists, Marxists, and anarchists also all claimed this democratic heritage as their own. A growing movement of opposition challenged the autocracy even before the crisis brought by World War I. Dissatisfaction with Russian autocracy culminated in the huge national upheaval that followed the Bloody Sunday massacre of January 1905, in which Russian workers saw their pleas for justice rejected as hundreds of unarmed protesters were shot by the Tsar's troops. The response to the massacre crippled the nation with strikes forcing Nicholas to offer his October Manifesto, which promised a democratic parliament (the State Duma). However, the Tsar undermined his promises of democracy with Article 87 of the 1906 Fundamental State Laws, and then subsequently dismissed the first two Dumas when they proved uncooperative. Unfulfilled hopes of democracy fueled revolutionary ideas and violence targeted at the Tsarist regime.

One of Nicholas' reasons for going to war in 1914 was his desire to restore the prestige that Russia had lost during the Russo-Japanese war. Nicholas also wanted to galvanize the diverse people in his empire under a single banner by directing military force at a common enemy, namely Germany and the Central Powers. A common assumption among his critics is that he believed that by doing so he could also distract the people from the ongoing issues of poverty, inequality, and poor working conditions that were sources of discontent. Instead of restoring Russia's political and military standing, World War I would lead to horrifying military casualties on the Russian side and undermined it further.


World War I
The outbreak of war in August 1914 initially served to quiet the prevalent social and political protests, focusing hostilities against a common external enemy, but this patriotic unity did not last for very long. As the war dragged on inconclusively, war-weariness gradually took its toll. More important, though, was this deeper fragility: although many ordinary Russians joined anti-German demonstrations in the first few weeks of the war, the most popular reaction appears to have been skepticism and fatalism. Hostility toward the Kaiser and the desire to defend their land and their lives did not necessarily translate into enthusiasm for the tsar or the government.

Russia's first major battle of the war was a disaster: in the 1914 Battle of Tannenberg, over 30,000 Russian troops were killed or wounded and 90,000 captured, while Germany suffered just 20,000 casualties. In the autumn of 1915, Nicholas had taken direct command of the army, personally overseeing Russia's main theatre of war and leaving his ambitious but incapable wife Alexandra in charge of the government. Reports of corruption and incompetence in the Imperial government began to emerge, and the growing influence of Grigori Rasputin in the Imperial family was widely resented. In 1915, things took a critical turn for the worse when Germany shifted its focus of attack to the Eastern front. The superior German army—it was better led, trained and supplied—was terrifyingly effective against the ill-equipped Russian forces, and, by the end of October 1916, Russia had lost between 1,600,000 and 1,800,000 soldiers, with an additional 2,000,000 prisoners of war and 1,000,000 missing, all making up a total of nearly 5,000,000 men. These staggering losses played a definite role in the Mutinies which began to occur, and, in 1916, reports of fraternizing with the enemy started to circulate. Soldiers went hungry, and they lacked shoes, munitions, and even weapons. Rampant discontent lowered morale, only to be further undermined by a series of military defeats.

Casualty rates were the most vivid sign of this disaster. Already, by the end of 1914, only five months into the war, nearly 400,000 Russian men had lost their lives and nearly 1,000,000 were injured. Far sooner than expected, scarcely-trained recruits had to be called up for active duty, a process repeated throughout the war as staggering losses continued to mount. The officer class also saw remarkable turnover, especially within the lower echelons, which were quickly filled with soldiers rising up through the ranks. These men, usually of peasant or worker backgrounds, were to play a large role in the politicization of the troops in 1917.

The huge losses on the battlefields were not limited to men, however. The army quickly ran short of rifles and ammunition (as well as uniforms and food), and, by mid-1915, men were being sent to the front bearing no arms; it was hoped that they could equip themselves with the arms that they recovered from fallen soldiers, of both sides, on the battlefields. With patently good reason, the soldiers did not feel that they were being treated as human beings, or even as valuable soldiers, but, rather, as raw materials to be squandered for the purposes of the rich and powerful. By the spring of 1915, the army was in steady retreat—and it was not always orderly: desertion, plunder and chaotic flight were not uncommon. By 1916, however, the situation had improved in many respects. Russian troops stopped retreating, and there were even some modest successes in the offensives that were staged that year, albeit at great loss of life. Also, the problem of shortages was largely solved by a major effort to increase domestic production. Nevertheless, by the end of 1916, morale among soldiers was even worse than it had been during the great retreat of 1915. The fortunes of war may have improved, but the fact of the war, still draining away strength and lives from the country and its many individuals and families, remained an oppressive unavoidability. The crisis in morale (as was argued by Allan Wildman, a leading historian of the Russian army in war and revolution) "was rooted fundamentally in the feeling of utter despair that the slaughter would ever end and that anything resembling victory could be achieved."

The war was devastating, of course, and not only to soldiers. By the end of 1915, there were manifold signs that the economy was breaking down under the heightened strain of wartime demand. The main problems were food shortages and rising prices. Inflation shoved real incomes down at an alarmingly rapid rate, and shortages made it difficult to buy even what one could afford. These shortages were especially a problem in the capital, Petrograd (formerly the City of St. Petersburg), where distance from supplies and poor transportation networks made matters particularly bad. Shops closed early or entirely for lack of bread, sugar, meat and other provisions, and lines lengthened massively for what remained. It became increasingly difficult both to afford and actually buy food. Not surprisingly, strikes increased steadily from the middle of 1915, and so did crime; but, for the most part, people suffered and endured—scouring the city for food—working-class women in Petrograd reportedly spent about forty hours a week in food lines—begging, turning to prostitution or crime, tearing down wooden fences to keep stoves heated for warmth, grumbling about the rich, and wondering when and how this would all come to an end. With good reason, the government officials responsible for public order worried about how long the people's patience would last. A report by the Petrograd branch of the security police, the Okhranka, in October 1916, warned quite bluntly of "the possibility in the near future of riots by the lower classes of the empire enraged by the burdens of daily existence."

Nicholas was blamed for all of these crises, and what little support he had left began to crumble. As discontent grew, the State Duma issued a warning to Nicholas in November 1916. It stated that, inevitably, a terrible disaster would grip the country unless a constitutional form of government was put in place. In typical fashion, however, Nicholas ignored them, and Russia's Tsarist regime collapsed a few months later during the February Revolution of 1917. One year later, the Tsar and his entire family were executed. Ultimately, Nicholas's inept handling of his country and the War destroyed the Tsars and ended up costing him both his rule and his life.


February Revolution
Nicholas II, March 1917, shortly after the revolution brought about his abdication.This revolution broke out without definite leadership and formal plans, which may be seen as indicative of the fact that the Russian people had had quite enough of the existing system. Petrograd, the capital, became the focus of attention, and, on February 23 (March 8) 1917, people at the food queues started a demonstration. They were soon joined by many thousands of women textile workers, who walked out of their factories—partly in commemoration of International Women's Day but mainly to protest against the severe shortages of bread. Already, large numbers of men and women were on strike, and the women stopped at any still-operating factories to call on their workers to join them. The mobs marched through the streets, belting out slogans such as "Bread!" and "Give us bread!" During the next two days, the strike, encouraged by the efforts of hundreds of rank-and-file socialist activists, spread to factories and shops throughout the capital. By February 25th, virtually every industrial enterprise in Petrograd had been shut down, together with many commercial and service enterprises. Students, white-collar workers and teachers joined the workers in the streets and at public meetings, whilst, in the still-active Duma, liberal and socialist deputies came to realise a potentially-massive problem. They presently denounced the current government even more vehemently and demanded a responsible cabinet of ministers. The Duma, consisting primarily of the bourgeoise, pressed the Tsar to abdicate in order to avert a revolution.

On the evening of Saturday the 25th, with police having lost control of the situation, Nicholas II, who refused to believe the warnings about the seriousness of these events, sent a fateful telegram to the chief of the Petrograd military district, General Sergei Khabalov: "I command you tomorrow to stop the disorders in the capital, which are unacceptable in the difficult time of war with Germany and Austria." Most of the soldiers obeyed these orders on the 26th, but mutinies, often led by lower-ranked officers, spread overnight. On the morning of the 27th, workers in the streets, many of them now armed, were joined by soldiers, sent in by the government to quell the riots. Many of these soldiers were insurgents, however, and they joined the crowd and fired on the police, in many cases little red ribbons tied to their bayonets. The outnumbered police then proceeded to join the army and civilians in their rampage. Thus, with this near-total disintegration of military power in the capital, effective civil authority collapsed.

By night-time on the 27th, the cabinet submitted its resignation to the tsar and proposed a temporary military dictatorship, but Russia's military leaders rejected this course. Nicholas, meanwhile, had been on the front with the soldiers, where he had seen first-hand Russia's defeat at Tannenburg. He had become very frustrated and was conscious of the fact that the demonstrations were on a massive scale; indeed, he feared for his life. The ill health of his son (suffering from the blood disorder hemophilia) was causing him difficulties, too. Nicholas accepted defeat at last and abdicated on 2 March, hoping, by this last act of service to his nation (as he stated in his manifesto), to end the disorders and bring unity to Russia. In the wake of this collapse of the 300-year-old Romanov dynasty—Nicholas's brother, to whom he subsequently offered the crown, refused to become Tsar unless that was the decision of an elected government; he wanted the people to want him as their leader—a minority of the Duma's deputies declared themselves a Provisional Government, chaired by Prince Lvov, a moderate reformist—although leadership moved gradually to Alexander Kerensky of the Social Revolutionary Party.


Between February and throughout October: "Dual Power" (dvoevlastie)
The effective power of the Provisional Government was challenged by the authority of an institution that claimed to represent the will of workers and soldiers and could, in fact, mobilize and control these groups during the early months of the revolution—the Petrograd Soviet [Council] of Workers' Deputies. The model for the soviet were workers' councils that had been established in scores of Russian cities during the 1905 revolution. In February 1917, striking workers elected deputies to represent them and socialist activists began organizing a citywide council to unite these deputies with representatives of the socialist parties. On 27 February, socialist Duma deputies, mainly Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, took the lead in organizing a citywide council. The Petrograd Soviet met in the Tauride Palace, the same building where the new government was taking shape.

The leaders of the Petrograd Soviet believed that they represented particular classes of the population, not the whole nation. They also believed Russia was not ready for socialism. So they saw their role as limited to pressuring hesitant "bourgeoisie” to rule and to introduce extensive democratic reforms in Russia (the replacement of the monarchy by a republic, guaranteed civil rights, a democratic police and army, abolition of religious and ethnic discrimination, preparation of elections to a constituent assembly, and so on).They met in the same building as the emerging Provisional Government not to compete with the Duma Committee for state power but to best exert pressure on the new government, to act, in other words, as a popular democratic lobby.

The relationship between these two major powers was complex from the beginning and would shape the politics of 1917. The representatives of the Provisional Government agreed to "take into account the opinions of the Soviet of Workers' Deputies," though they were also determined to prevent "interference in the actions of the government," which would create "an unacceptable situation of dual power." In fact, this was precisely what was being created, though this "dual power" (dvoevlastie) was the result less of the actions or attitudes of the leaders of these two institutions than of actions outside their control, especially the ongoing social movement taking place on the streets of Russia’s cities, in factories and shops, in barracks and in the trenches, and in the villages.

A series of political crises—see the chronology below—in the relationship between population and government and between the Provisional government and the soviets (which developed into a nationwide movement with a national leadership, The All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets (VTsIK)) undermined the authority of the Provisional Government but also of the moderate socialist leaders of the Soviet. Although the Soviet leadership initially refused to participate in the "bourgeois" Provisional Government, Alexander Kerensky, a young and popular lawyer and a member of the Social Revolutionary Party (SRP), agreed to join the new cabinet, and he became an increasingly central figure in the government, eventually taking leadership of the Provisional Government. As minister of war and later Prime Minister, Kerensky promoted freedom of speech, released thousands of political prisoners, did his very best to continue the war effort and even organised a new offensive (which, however, was no more successful than its predecessors). Nevertheless, Kerensky still faced several great challenges, highlighted by the soldiers, urban workers and peasants, who claimed that they had gained nothing by the revolution:

    Other political groups were trying to undermine him.
    Heavy military losses were being suffered on the front.

The soldiers were dissatisfied, demoralised and had started to defect. (On arrival back in Russia, these soldiers were either imprisoned or sent straight back to the front.) There was enormous discontent with Russia's involvement in the war, and many were calling for an end to it. There were great shortages of food and supplies, which was difficult to remedy because of the wartime economic conditions.

The political group which proved most troublesome for Kerensky, and would eventually overthrow him, was the Bolshevik Party, led by Vladimir Lenin. Lenin had been living in exile in neutral Switzerland and, due to the democratization of politics after the February Revolution which legalized formerly banned political parties, he perceived the opportunity for his Marxist revolution. Although return to Russia had become a possibility, the war made it logistically difficult. Eventually, German officials arranged for Lenin to pass through their territory, hoping that his activities would weaken Russia or even--if the Bolsheviks came to power--lead to Russia's withdrawal from the war. Lenin and his associates, however, had to agree to travel to Russia in a sealed train: Germany would not take the chance that he would foment revolution in Germany. After passing through the front, he arrived in Petrograd in April 1917.

With Lenin's arrival, the popularity of the Bolsheviks increased steadily. Over the course of the spring, public dissatisfaction with the Provisional Government and the war, in particular among workers, soldiers and peasants, pushed these groups to radical parties. Despite growing support for the Bolsheviks, buoyed by maxims that called most famously for "all power to the Soviets," the party held very little real power in the moderate dominated Petrograd Soviet. In fact, historians such as Sheila Fitzpatrick have asserted that Lenin's exhortations for the Soviet Council to take power were intended to arouse indignation both with the Provisional Government, whose policies were viewed as conservative, and the Soviet itself, whose was viewed as subservient to the conservative government. By most historians' accounts, Lenin and his followers were unprepared for how their groundswell of support, especially among influential worker and soldier groups, would translate into real power in summer, 1917.

On June 18, the Provisional Government launched an attack against Germany which failed miserably. Soon after, the military ordered the Petrograd to go to the front reneging a previously made promise and the soldiers refused to follow the new orders. The arrival of radical Kronstadt sailors, who had tried and executed many officers, including one admiral, further fueled the growing revolutionary atmosphere. The sailors and soldiers, along with Petrograd workers, took to the streets in violent protest, calling for "all power to the Soviets." The revolt, however, was disowned by Lenin and the Bolshevik leaders and dissipated within a few days. In the aftermath, Lenin fled to Finland under threat of arrest while Trotsky, among other prominent Bolsheviks, was arrested. The July Days confirmed the popularity of the anti-war, radical Bolsheviks, but their unpreparedness at the moment of revolt was an embarrassing gaff which resulted in loss of support among their main constituent groups--soldiers and workers.

The Bolshevik failure in the July Days proved temporary, though. In August, poor, or misleading, communication led General Lavr Kornilov, the recently appointed Supreme Commander of Russian military forces, to believe that the Petrograd government had been captured by radicals, or was in serious danger thereof. In response, he ordered troops to Petrograd to pacify the city. In order to secure his position, Kerensky had to ask for Bolshevik assistance. He also sought help from the Petrograd Soviet, which called upon armed Red Guards to "defend the revolution." The Kornilov Affair failed largely due to the efforts of the Bolsheviks, whose influence over railroad and telegraph workers proved vital in stopping the movement of troops. With his coup failing, Kornilov surrendered and was relieved of his position. The Bolsheviks' role in stopping the attempted coup immensely strengthened their position.

In early September, the Soviet Council freed the jailed Bolsheviks and Trotsky became chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. Growing numbers of socialists and lower-class Russians viewed the government less and less as a force in support of their needs and interests. The Bolsheviks benefited as the only major organized opposition party which had refused to compromise with the Provisional Government, and they benefited from growing frustration and even disgust with other parties, such as the Mensheviks and SRs, who stubbornly refused to break with the idea of national unity across all classes.

In Finland, Lenin had worked on his book State and Revolution and continued to lead his party writing newspaper articles and policy decrees. By October, he returned to Petrograd, aware that the increasingly radical city presented him no legal danger and a second opportunity for revolution. The Bolshevik Central Committee drafted a resolution, calling for the dissolution of the Provisional Government in favor of the Petrograd Soviet. The resolution was passed 10-2 (Lev Kamenev and Grigorii Zinoviev prominently dissenting) and the October Revolution began.

October Revolution
The October Revolution was led by Vladimir Lenin and was based upon Lenin's writing on the ideas of Karl Marx, a political ideology often known as Marxism-Leninism. It marked the beginning of the spread of communism in the twentieth century. It was far less sporadic than the revolution of February and came about as the result of deliberate planning and coordinated activity to that end. Though Lenin was the leader of the Bolshevik Party, it has been argued that since Lenin wasn't present during the actual takeover of the Winter Palace, it was really Trotsky's organization and direction that led the revolution, spurred by the motivation Lenin instigated within his party. Critics on the Right have long argued that the financial and logistical assistance of German intelligence via their key agent, Alexander Parvus was a key component as well, though historians are divided, for the evidence is sparse.

On November 7, 1917, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin led his leftist revolutionaries in a revolt against the ineffective Provisional Government (Russia was still using the Julian Calendar at the time, so period references show an October 25 date). The October Revolution ended the phase of the revolution instigated in February, replacing Russia's short-lived provisional parliamentary government with government by soviets, local councils elected by bodies of workers and peasants. Liberal and monarchist forces, loosely organized into the White Army, immediately went to war against the Bolsheviks' Red Army.

Soviet membership was initially freely elected, but many members of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, anarchists, and other leftists opposed the Bolsheviks through the soviets. When it became clear that the Bolsheviks had little support outside of the industrialized areas of St. Petersburg and Moscow, they barred non-Bolsheviks from membership in the soviets. Other socialists revolted and called for "a third revolution." The most notable instances were the Tambov rebellion, 1919–1921, and the Kronstadt rebellion in March 1921. These movements, which made a wide range of demands and lacked effective coordination, were eventually defeated along with the White Army during the Civil War.

Death of the royal family
In early March, the Provisional Government placed Nicholas and his family under house arrest in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, 15 miles (24 km) south of Petrograd. In August 1917 the Kerensky government evacuated the Romanovs to Tobolsk in the Urals, allegedly to protect them from the rising tide of revolution during the Red Terror. After the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, the conditions of their imprisonment grew stricter and talk of putting Nicholas on trial grew more frequent. As the counter revolutionary White movement gathered force, leading to full-scale civil war by the summer, the Romanovs were moved, during April and May 1918, to Yekaterinburg, a militant Bolshevik stronghold. During the early morning of July 16, at approximately 1:30, Nicholas, Alexandra, their children, their physician, and three servants were taken into the basement and executed. Whether this was on direct orders from Vladimir Lenin in Moscow (as many believe, though there is a lack of hard evidence), or an option approved in Moscow should White troops approach Yekaterinburg, or at the initiative of local Bolsheviks, remains in dispute, as does whether the order (if there was an order) was for the execution of Nicholas alone or the entire family. The royal family was lined up as if for a picture, then the shooting commenced, which accounts by participants described as chaotic, partly because the jewels sewn inside the girls undergarments deflected many of the initial shots. One of the royal family, Dmitry Grinevich, attempted to escape but was run down and stabbed to death.

Civil war
The Russian Civil War, which broke out in 1918 shortly after the revolution, brought death and suffering to millions of people regardless of their political orientation. The war was fought mainly between the Red Army ("Reds"), consisting of radical communists and revolutionaries, and the "Whites"—the monarchists, conservatives, liberals and moderate socialists who opposed the drastic restructuring championed by the Bolsheviks. The Whites had backing from nations such as Great Britain, France, USA and Japan.

Also during the Civil War, Nestor Makhno led a Ukrainian anarchist movement allied with the Bolsheviks thrice, one of the powers ending the alliance each time. However, a Bolshevik force under Mikhail Frunze destroyed the Makhnovist movement, when the Makhnovists refused to merge into the Red Army. In addition, the so-called "Green Army" (nationalists and anarchists) played a secondary role in the war, mainly in Ukraine.

The Russian revolution and the world
Trotsky said that the goal of socialism in Russia would not be realized without the success of the world revolution. Indeed, a revolutionary wave caused by the Russian Revolution lasted until 1923. Despite initial hopes for success in the German Revolution, in the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic and others like it, no other Marxist movement succeeded in keeping power in its hands.

This issue is subject to conflicting views on the communist history by various Marxist groups and parties. Stalin later rejected this idea, stating that socialism was possible in one country.

The confusion regarding Stalin's position on the issue stems from the fact that he, after Lenin's death in 1924, successfully used Lenin's argument—the argument that socialism's success needs the workers of other countries in order to happen—to defeat his competitors within the party by accusing them of betraying Lenin and, therefore, the ideals of the October Revolution.

See Also
The Communist Manifesto
Britain killed Rasputin, claims Russian film
Russia on the march

Readers please email comments to: editorial AT martinfrost.ws including full name

Note: martinfrost.ws contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of "fair use" in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than "fair use" you must request permission from the copyright owner.
meditations
top