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The October Revolution

A sudden outbreak in Petrograd in little more than a day swept away the fabric of imperial government. In an interview dated November 21, and published in the New York Times in a special cable from Petrograd, Leon Trotzky in defending the attitude of the people toward the Bolsheviki coup d'etat was reported to have said substantially the following: "All the bourgeoisie is against us. The greater part of the intellectuals is against us or hesitating, awaiting a final outcome. The working class is wholly with us. The army is with us. The peasants, with the exception of exploiters, are with us. The Workmen's and Soldiers' government is a government of workingmen, soldiers, and peasants against the capitalists and landowners."

Although the Provisional Government survived the Kornilov revolt, popular support for the government faded rapidly as the national mood swung to the left in the fall of 1917. Workers took control of their factories through elected committees; peasants expropriated lands belonging to the state, church, nobility, and gentry; and armies melted away as peasant soldiers deserted to take part in the land seizures.

The Bolsheviks, skillfully exploiting these popular trends in their propaganda, dominated the Petrograd Soviet and the Moscow Soviet by September, with Trotsky, freed from prison after the Kornilov revolt, now chairman of the Petrograd Soviet.

Realizing that the time was ripe for seizing power by armed force, Lenin returned to Petrograd in October and convinced a majority of the Bolshevik Central Committee, which had hoped to take power legally, to accept armed uprising in principle. Trotsky won the Petrograd garrison over to Soviet authority, depriving the Provisional Government of its main military support in Petrograd. The actual insurrection the Bolshevik Revolution began on the morning of November 6 (October 24) when Kerensky ordered the Bolshevik press closed. Interpreting this action as a counterrevolutionary move, the Bolsheviks called on their supporters to defend the Petrograd Soviet. By evening the Bolsheviks controlled utilities and most government buildings in Petrograd, allowing Lenin to proclaim the downfall of the Provisional Government on the morning of November 7 (October 25).

The Bolsheviks captured the Provisional Government's cabinet at its Winter Palace headquarters that night with hardly a shot fired in the government's defense. Kerensky left Petrograd to organize resistance, but his countercoup failed and he fled Russia. Bolshevik uprisings soon took place elsewhere; the Bolsheviks gained control of Moscow by November 15 (November 2). The Second Congress of Soviets, meeting in Petrograd on November 7 (October 25), ratified the Bolshevik takeover after moderate deputies (mainly Mensheviks and right-wing members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, or SRs) quit the session.

The remaining Bolsheviks and left-wing SRs declared the Soviets the governing bodies of Russia and named the Council of People's Commissars (Sovet narodnykh komissarov Sovnarkom) to serve as the cabinet. Lenin became chairman of this council. Trotsky took the post of commissar of foreign affairs; Stalin, a Georgian, became commissar of nationalities.

By acting decisively while their opponents vacillated, the Bolsheviks succeeded in effecting their coup d'etat. On coming to power, the Bolsheviks issued a series of revolutionary decrees that ratified peasants' seizures of land and workers' control of industry; abolished legal class privileges; nationalized the banks; and set up revolutionary tribunals in place of the courts.

At the same time, the revolutionaries now constituting the regime worked to secure power inside and outside the government. Deeming Western forms of parliamentary democracy irrelevant, Lenin argued for a dictatorship of the proletariat based on one-party Bolshevik rule, although for a time left-wing SRs also participated in the Sovnarkom. The Soviet government created a secret police, the Vecheka to persecute enemies of the state (including bourgeois liberals and moderate socialists).

Having convened the Constituent Assembly, which had been elected in November with the Bolsheviks winning only a quarter of the seats, the Soviet government dissolved the assembly in January after a one-day session, ending a short-lived experiment in parliamentary democracy in Russia.

In foreign affairs, the Soviet government, seeking to disengage Russia from the Great War, called on the belligerent powers for an armistice and peace without annexations. The Allied Powers rejected this appeal, but Germany and its allies agreed to a ceasefire and began negotiations in December 1917. After dictating harsh terms that the Soviet government would not accept, however, Germany resumed its offensive in February 1918, meeting scant resistance from disintegrating Russian armies. Lenin, after bitter debate with leading Bolsheviks who favored prolonging the war in hopes of precipitating class warfare in Germany, persuaded a slim majority of the Bolshevik Central Committee that peace must be made at any cost.

On March 3, Soviet government officials signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, relinquishing Poland, the Baltic lands, Finland, and Ukraine to German control and giving up a portion of the Caucasus region to Turkey. With the new border dangerously close to Petrograd, the government was soon transferred to Moscow. An enormous part of the population and resources of the Russian Empire was lost by this treaty, but Lenin understood that no alternative could ensure the survival of the fledgling Soviet state.



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Page last modified: 15-01-2016 17:25:27 ZULU