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The Russian Revolution of 1917 refers to a series of two popular revolutions in Russia, and the events surrounding them. These revolutions had the effect of completely changing the nature of society within the Russian Empire and transforming the Russian state, which ultimately led to the replacement of the old Tsarist autocracy with the Soviet Union.
The February Revolution of 1917 (March 1917 of the Gregorian calendar) was a spontaneous popular revolution focused around Petrograd, with an associated mutiny of the military. In the chaos members of the Duma assumed control of the country, forming the Russian Provisional Government. The army leadership felt they did not have the means to suppress the revolution and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the last Tsar of Russia, abdicated, effectively leaving the Provisional Government in power. The Soviets (workers' councils) which were led by more radical socialist factions initially permitted the new government to rule but insisted on a prerogative to influence the government and control various militias. The February Revolution took place in the context of the First World War, with much of the army in a state of mutiny.
A period of dual power eventuated, in which the Provisional Government held state power and the national network of Soviets, led by socialists, had the allegiance of the lower-class citizens and the political Left. During this chaotic period there were frequent army mutinies and many strikes. The Provisional Government chose to remain in the war, whereas the policy of the Bolsheviks and other socialist factions was to abandon the war effort. The Bolsheviks formed workers militas into the Red Guards (later the Red Army) over which they exerted substantial control. The Mensheviks, another socialist faction, 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 in Petrograd. A civil war soon erupted between the Red and White (nationalist) factions, which was to continue for several years, with the Bolsheviks ultimately victorious. The Bolsheviks signed a peace treaty with Germany. In this way the Revolution paved the way for the USSR. While many notable historical events occurred in Moscow and Petrograd, there was also a broadly-based movement in cities throughout the state, among national minorities throughout the empire, and in the rural areas, where peasants seized and redistributed land.
At the start of 1917 the country was ripe for 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.
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. There was a general sense that the texture of people's lives was being 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 World War I), should have convinced the emperor, Nicholas II, to take 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.
Many of the people of Russia resented the autocracy of Tsar Nicholas II and the corrupt and anachronistic elements in his government. He was seen as being 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 during the years following the 1905 Bloody Sunday Massacre), led to the Russian Revolution.
Many workers acquired 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 of 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 the land they worked. 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, Saint 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 Saint 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 were replaced by discontented conscripts from the major cities, who had little loyalty to the Tsar.
Many subjects of the crown had reason to be dissatisfied with the existing autocracy. Nicholas II was a deeply conservative ruler and maintained a strict authoritarian system. Individuals and society in general were expected to show self-restraint, devotion to community, deference to the social hierarchy, and a sense of duty to country. Religious faith helped bind all of these tenets together as a source of comfort and reassurance in the face of difficult conditions and as a means of political authority exercised through the clergy. Perhaps more than any other modern monarch, Nicholas II attached his fate and the future of his dynasty to the notion of the ruler as a saintly and infallible father to his people. This idealized vision of the Romanov monarchy blinded him to the actual state of his country. With a firm belief that his power to rule was granted by Divine Right, Nicholas assumed that the Russian people were devoted to him with unquestioning loyalty. This ironclad belief rendered Nicholas unwilling to allow the progressive reforms that might have alleviated the suffering of the Russian people. Even after the 1905 revolution spurred the Tsar to decree limited civil rights and democratic representation, he worked to limit even these liberties in order to preserve the ultimate authority of the crown.
Despite constant oppression, the desire of the people for democratic participation in government was strong. Since the Age of Enlightenment, Russian intellectuals had promoted Enlightenment ideals such as the dignity of the individual and of the rectitude of democratic representation. These ideals were championed most vociferously by Russia’s liberals, although populists, Marxists, and anarchists also claimed to support democratic reforms. A growing opposition movement had begun to challenge the Romanov monarchy openly well before the turmoil of World War I. Dissatisfaction with Russian autocracy culminated in the huge national upheaval that followed the Bloody Sunday massacre of January 1905, in which hundreds of unarmed protesters were shot by the Tsar's troops. Workers responded to the massacre with a crippling general strike, forcing Nicholas to put forth the October Manifesto which established a democraticly elected parliament (the State Duma). The Tsar undermined this promise of reform but a year later with Article 87 of the 1906 Fundamental State Laws, and subsequently dismissed the first two Dumas when they proved uncooperative. Unfulfilled hopes of democracy fueled revolutionary ideas and violent outbursts targeted at the monarchy.
One of the Tsar’s principal rationales for risking war in 1914 was his desire to restore the prestige that Russia had lost amid the debacles of the Russo-Japanese war. Nicholas also sought to foster a greater sense of national unity with a war against a common and ancient enemy. The Russian Empire was an agglomeration of diverse ethnicities that had shown significant signs of disunity in the years before the First World War. Nicholas believed in part that the shared peril and tribulation of a foreign war would mitigate the social unrest over the persistent issues of poverty, inequality, and inhuman working conditions. Instead of restoring Russia's political and military standing, World War I led to the horrifying slaughter of Russian troops and military defeats that undermined both the monarchy and society in general to the point of collapse.
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 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 widespread 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. However, Austro-Hungarian forces allied to Germany were driven back deep into the Galicia region by the end of the year. 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 the eyes of Lynch, a revisionist historian who focuses on the role of the people, Rasputin was a "fatal disease" to the Tsarist regime.
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 — better led, better trained and better supplied — was terrifyingly effective against the ill-equipped Russian forces, driving the Russians out of Galicia, as well as Russian Poland, during the Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive campaign. 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. 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, which 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 devastated not only 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 Saint 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.
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 Okhrana, in October 1916, warned 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.
This revolution broke out without definite leadership and formal plans, which may be seen as indicative of the fact that the Russian people 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, with cries of "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 nighttime 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 13 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.
- June - July: General Strikes in Saint Petersburg.
- July 19th: Germany declares war on Russia, causing a brief sense of patriotic union amongst the Russian nation and a downturn in striking.
- July 30th: The All Russian Zemstvo Union for the Relief of Sick and Wounded Soldiers is created with Lvov as president.
- August - November: Russia suffers heavy defeats and a large shortage of supplies, including food and munitions, but holds onto Austrian Galicia.
- August 18th: Saint Petersburg is renamed Petrograd as 'Germanic' names are changed to sound more Russian, and hence more patriotic.
- November 5th: Bolshevik members of the Duma are arrested; they are later tried and exiled to Siberia.
- February 19: Great Britain and France accept Russia's claims to Istanbul and other Turkish lands.
- June 5th: Strikers shot at in Kostromá; casualties.
- July 9th: The Great Retreat begins, as Russian forces pull back out of Galicia and Russian Poland into Russia proper.
- August 9th: The Duma's bourgeois parties form the 'Progressive bloc' to push for better government and reform; includes the Kadets, Octobrist groups and Nationalists.
- August 10th: Strikers shot at in Ivánovo-Voznesénsk; casualties.
- August 17-19th: Strikers in Petrograd protest at the deaths in Ivánovo-Voznesénsk.
- August 23rd: Reacting to war failures and a hostile Duma, the Tsar takes over as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, prorogues the Duma and moves to military headquarters at Mogilev. Central government begins to seize up.
- January - December: Despite successes in the Brusilov offensive, the Russian war effort is still characterised by shortages, poor command, death and desertion. Away from the front, the conflict causes starvation, inflation and a torrent of refugees. Both soldiers and civilians blame the incompetence of the Tsar and his government.
- February 6: Duma reconvened.
- February 29th: After a month of strikes at the Putílov Factory, the government conscripts the workers and takes charge of production. Protest strikes follow.
- June 20: Duma prorogued.
- October: Troops from 181st Regiment help striking Russkii Renault workers fight against the Police.
- November 1st: Miliukov gives his 'Is this stupidity or treason?' speech in reconvened Duma.
- December 17/18th: Rasputin is killed by Prince Yusupov.
- December 30th: The Tsar is warned that his army won't support him against a revolution.
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, which 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 gaffe 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 favour of the Petrograd Soviet. The resolution was passed 10-2 ( Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev prominently dissenting) and the October Revolution began.
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 I. 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 Saint 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 increased. 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 am, Nicholas, Alexandra, their children, their physician, and three servants were taken into the basement and executed. According to Edvard Radzinsky and Dmitrii Volkogonov, the order came directly from Vladimir Lenin and Yakov Sverdlov in Moscow. That the order came from the top has long been believed, although there is a dearth of hard evidence. It has been argued that the execution was carried out on the initiative of local Bolshevik officials, or that it was an option approved in Moscow should White troops approach Yekaterinburg. Radzinsky noted that Lenin's bodyguard personally delivered the telegram ordering the execution and that he was ordered to destroy the evidence. The royal family was lined up and shooting commenced. Accounts by participants described the event as chaotic, partly because jewels sewn inside the girls undergarments deflected many of the shots.
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.
Brief chronology leading to Revolution of 1917
Dates are correct for the Julian calendar, which was used in Russia until 1918. It was twelve days behind the Gregorian calendar during the 19th century and thirteen days behind it during the 20th century.
|1855||Start of reign of Tsar Alexander II.|
|1861||Emancipation of the serfs.|
|1874–81||Growing anti-government terrorist movement and government reaction.|
|1881||Alexander II assassinated by revolutionaries; succeeded by Alexander III.|
|1883||First Russian Marxist group formed.|
|1894||Start of reign of Nicholas II.|
|1898||First Congress of Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP).|
|1900||Foundation of Socialist Revolutionary Party (SR).|
|1903||Second Congress of Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Beginning of split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.|
|1904–5||Russo-Japanese War; Russia loses war.|
|1905||Russian Revolution of 1905.|
|1906||First State Duma. Prime Minister: Petr Stolypin. Agrarian reforms begin.|
|1907||Second State Duma, February–June.|
|1907||Third State Duma, until 1912.|
|1912||Fourth State Duma, until 1917. Bolshevik/ Menshevik split final.|
|1914||Germany declares war on Russia.|
|1915||Serious defeats, Nicholas II declares himself Commander in Chief.|
|1916||Food and fuel shortages and high prices. Progressive Bloc formed.|
|1917||Strikes, mutinies, street demonstrations lead to the fall of autocracy.|
Expanded chronology of Revolution of 1917
|Gregorian Date||Julian Date||Event|
|January||Strikes and unrest in Petrograd|
|March 8th||February 23rd||International Women's Day: strikes and demonstrations in Petrograd, growing over the next few days.|
|March 11th||February 26th||50 demonstrators killed in Znamenskaya Square Tsar Nicholas II prorogues the State Duma and orders commander of Petrograd military district to suppress disorders with force.|
|March 12th||February 27th||* Troops refuse to fire on demonstrators, deserters. Prisons, courts, and police bumbs attacked and looted by angry crowds.
|March 14th||March 1st||Order No.1 of the Petrograd Soviet.|
|March 15th||March 2nd||Nicholas II abdicates. Provisional Government formed under Prime Minister Prince Lvov.|
|April 16th||April 3rd||Return of Lenin to Russia. He publishes his April Theses.|
|May 3rd–4th||April 20th–21st||"April Days": mass demonstrations by workers, soldiers, and others in the streets of Petrograd and Moscow triggered by the publication of the Foreign Minister Miliukov's note to the allies, which was interpreted as affirming commitment to the war policies of the old government. First Provisional Government falls.|
|May 18th||May 5th||First Coalition Government forms when socialists, representatives of the Soviet leadership, agree to enter the cabinet of the Provisional Government. Kerensky, the only socialist already in the government, made minister of war and navy.|
|June 16th||June 3rd||First All-Russian Congress of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies opens in Petrograd. Closed on 24th. Elects Central Executive Committee of Soviets (VTsIK), headed by Mensheviks and SRs.|
|June 23rd||June 10th||Planned Bolshevik demonstration in Petrograd banned by the Soviet.|
|June 29th||June 16th||Kerensky orders offensive against Austro-Hungarian forces. Initial success only.|
|July 1st||June 18th||Official Soviet demonstration in Petrograd for unity is unexpectedly dominated by Bolshevik slogans: "Down with the Ten Capitalist Ministers", "All Power to the Soviets".|
|July 15th||July 2nd||Russian offensive ends. Trotsky joins Bolsheviks.|
|July 16th–17th||July 3rd–4th||The " July Days"; mass armed demonstrations in Petrograd, encouraged by the Bolsheviks, demanding "All Power to the Soviets".|
|July 19th||July 6th||German and Austro-Hungarian counter-attack. Russians retreat in panic, sacking the town of Tarnopol. Arrest of Bolshevik leaders ordered.|
|July 20th||July 7th||Lvov resigns and asks Kerensky to become Prime Minister and form a new government. Established July 25th.|
|August 4th||July 22nd||Trotsky and Lunacharskii arrested.|
|September 8th||August 26th||Second coalition government ends.|
|September 8th–12th||August 26th–30th||"Kornilov mutiny". Begins when the commander-in-chief of the Russian army, General Lavr Kornilov, demands (or is believed by Kerensky to demand) that the government give him all civil and military authority and moves troops against Petrograd.|
|September 13th||August 31st||Majority of deputies of the Petrograd Soviet approve a Bolshevik resolution for an all-socialist government excluding the bourgeoisie.|
|September 14th||September 1st||Russia declared a republic|
|September 17th||September 4th||Trotsky and others freed.|
|September 18th||September 5th||Bolshevik resolution on the government wins majority vote in Moscow Soviet.|
|October 2nd||September 19th||Moscow Soviet elects executive committee and new presidium, with Bolshevik majorities, and the Bolshevik Viktor Nogin as chairman.|
|October 8th||September 25th||Third coalition government formed. Bolshevik majority in Petrograd Soviet elects Bolshevik Presidium and Trotsky as chairman.|
|October 23rd||October 10th||Bolshevik Central Committee meeting approves armed uprising.|
|October 24th||October 11th||Congress of Soviets of the Northern Region, until October 13th.|
|November 2nd||October 20th||First meeting of the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet.|
|November 7th||October 25th||October Revolution is launched as MRC directs armed workers and soldiers to capture key buildings in Petrograd. Winter Palace attacked at 9:40pm and captured at 2am. Kerensky flees Petrograd. Opening of the 2nd All-Russian Congress of Soviets.|
|November 8th||October 26th||Second Congress of Soviets: Mensheviks and right SR delegates walk out in protest against the previous day's events. Congress approves transfer of state authority into its own hands and local power into the hands of local soviets of workers', soldiers', and peasants' deputies, abolishes capital punishment, issues Decree on Peace and Decree on Land, and approves the formation of an all-Bolshevik government, the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom), with Lenin as chairman.|
The Russian Revolution has been portrayed in several films.
- Arsenal ' (IMDB profile). Written and directed by Aleksandr Dovzhenko.
- Konets Sankt-Peterburga AKA The End of Saint Petersburg (IMDB profile).
- Lenin v 1918 godu AKA Lenin in 1918 (IMDB profile). Directed by Mikhail Romm and E. Aron (co-director).
- October: Ten Days That Shook the World (IMDB profile). Directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein and Grigori Aleksandrov. Runtimes: Sweden:104 min, USA:95 min. Country: Soviet Union. Black and White. Silent. 1927.
- The End of Saint Petersburg, directed by Vsevolod Pudovkin, USSR, 1927.
- Reds (IMDB profile). Directed by Warren Beatty, 1981. It is based on the book Ten Days that Shook the World.
- Anastasia (IMDB profile), an American animated feature, directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, 1997.
- Dr. Zhivago, an American drama-romance-war film directed by David Lean, 1965, and loosely based on the famous novel of the same name by Boris Pasternak.
- The White Guard, Mikhail Bulgakov, 1926. Partially autobiographical novel, portraying the life of one family torn apart by uncertainty of the Civil War times. Also, Dni Turbinykh (IMDB profile), 1976 - film based on the novel.