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Russian Revolution

The Russian Revolution of 1917 began on 25 October 1917 on the Julian calendar, which is why the event is often referred to as the October Revolution. But the rest of the world uses the Gregorian calender, which means the actual anniversary is on 07 November 1917.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 saw the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy in February and the seizure of power by the Bolshevik party in October. The Bolsheviks proceeded to establish the world's first Communist state on a territory covering one-sixth of the globe, that stretched from the Arctic to the Black Sea, from the Baltic to the Far East. Their revolution proved to be the most consequential event of the 20th century, inspiring communist movements and revolutions across the world, notably in China, provoking a reaction in the form of fascism, and after 1945 having a profound influence on many anti-colonial movements and shaping the architecture of international relations through the Cold War. In 1991 the state to which the Russian Revolution gave rise collapsed, allowing historians to see the history of the Russian Revolution in its entirety for the first time.

Up to February 1918 dates are given in the old style. On that date the Bolsheviks changed from the Julian calendar, which was days behind that of the West, to the western calendar. The October seizure of power (24-5 October 1917) thus took place on 6-7 November 1917, according to the western calendar.

Popular uprisings in Russia between 1905 and 1906 had compelled the tsar to grant a national legislature (Duma), without, however, seriously weakening the position of the government. The war disclosed how inefficient, weak, and even corrupt that government was. Late in 1916 the pro-German party at the court, including the tsar's German wife, secretly began negotiations with the Central Powers for a separate peace. Patriotic Russians in the Duma passed a resolution that "dark forces" in high places were betraying the nation's interest. Nevertheless, the intrigue went on, and the demoralization of Russia proceeded apace.

A severe shortage of food in Petrograd brought matters to a crisis. Rioting broke out, and the troops were ordered to suppress it with bullet and bayonet in the usual of the tsar, pitiless fashion. But the old army, so long the prop of autocracy, languished in German prison camps or lay underground. The new army, mostly recruited from peasants and workingmen since the war, refused to fire on the people. Autocracy found itself helpless.

The revolution of February 1917 took all political parties and factions by surprise. Within a few days the centuries old Tsarist regime had been swept away and a situation of dual power established. The Duma then induced the tsar to sign the penciled memorandum which ended the Romanov dynasty after three hundred and four years of absolute power.

The revolutionists set up a provisional government, headed by the executive committee of the Duma. Nearly all the members belonged to the party of Constitutional Democrats [Kadets], representing the middle class, or stitutionai bourgeoisie. Many liberal reforms were announced: liberty of speech and of the press; the right of suffrage for both men and women; a general amnesty for all political offenders and Siberian exiles; and a constituent assembly to draw up a constitution for Russia. The United States and the western Allies promptly recognized the new government.

Socialists did not rest satisfied with these measures. They planned to give the revolution an economic rather than merely a political character. Throughout Russia they organized soviets, or councils representing workingmen and soldiers. The most important of these bodies was the Petrograd Council of Workingmen's and Soldiers' Delegates. The socialistic propaganda for a general peace on the basis of "no annexations and no indemnities" also made rapid headway with the army at the front. The troops began to elect their own officers, to fraternize with the enemy, and to desert in large numbers. Before long the Petrograd soviet, having won the support of the army, abolished the Duma as a stronghold of the bourgeoisie and replaced the Constitutional Democrats in the provisional government with socialists.

In his April Theses, Lenin proposed a radical shift in policy, which, despite various differences in detail and emphasis, brought him close to the positions that had been put forward by Trotsky with his theory of permanent revolution. With the radical shift in position initiated by the April Theses, and Trotsky's subsequent acceptance of Lenin's conception of the revolutionary party, the way was opened for Trotsky to join the Bolsheviks. While both Lenin and Trotsky argued that it was necessary to overthrow the Provisional Government and establish a workers' government through a socialist-proletarian revolution, neither Lenin nor Trotsky saw socialism as an immediate prospect in a backward country such as Russia.

The socialist leader was a young lawyer named Alexander Kerensky. His impassioned oratory gave him great influence, and by July, 1917, he had become practical dictator. But Kerensky turned out to be neither a Cromwell nor a Napoleon, at a time when Russia required a combination of both for her salvation. A moderate socialist, he did not please the Constitutional Democrats, and he pleased the radical socialists still less.

The Mensheviks were a wing of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party before and during the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917. Unlike the Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks believed in the gradual achievement of socialism by parliamentary methods. The term Menshevik is derived from the word menshenstvo (minority). For the Mensheviks the revolution would have to be carried out in alliance with the bourgeoisie. The tasks of the party of the working class would be to act as the most radical wing of the democratic revolution which would then press for a 'minimal program' of political and social reforms which, while compatible with both private property and the limits of the democratic-bourgeois revolution, would provide a sound basis for the future struggle against the bourgeoisie and capitalism.

In contrast, Lenin and the Bolsheviks believed that the Russian bourgeoisie was far too weak and cowardly to carry out their own revolution. As a consequence, the bourgeois-democratic revolution would have to be made for them by the working class in alliance with the peasant masses. However, in making a revolutionary alliance with the peasantry the question of land reform would have to be placed at the top of the political agenda of the revolutionary government. Yet, as previous revolutions in Western Europe had shown, as soon as land had been expropriated from the landowners and redistributed amongst the peasantry most of the peasants would begin to lose interest in the revolution and become a conservative force.

In October/November, 1917, a second revolution in Petrograd overthrew Kerensky and the provisional government which he headed.

The two men who now seized the reins of power were Nicholas Lenin and Leon Trotsky. They belonged to the Bolsheviki, an organization of radical socialists. Lenin was Lenin and born of Russian parents and was brought up Trotsky in the Orthodox faith. He received an education in economics and law at the University of Petrograd. His socialistic activities soon resulted in a three years' exile to Siberia. After his release he went abroad and became prominent in the revolutionary circles of many European capitals.

Trotsky, a Russian Jew, also suffered exile to Siberia as an undesirable agitator, the first time for four years, the second time for life. Having managed to escape, Trotsky went to western Europe and later to the United States. After the Russian Revolution both men returned to their native country and engaged in socialistic propaganda, with the results that have been seen. Lenin became premier and Trotsky foreign minister (subsequently minister of war) in the new government.

For many socialists at this time the revolutionary but disciplined politics of Bolsheviks stood in stark contrast to the wheeler-dealing and back-sliding of the parliamentary socialism of the Second International. For all their proclamations of internationalism, without exception the reformist socialist parties of the Second International had lined up behind their respective national ruling classes and in doing so had condemned a whole generation of the working class to the hell and death of the trenches. As a result, with the revolutionary wave that swept Europe following the Great War, hundreds of thousands flocked to the newly formed Communist Parties based on the Bolshevik model, and united within the newly formed Third International directed from Moscow.

The Bolsheviki proposed to conclude an immediate "democratic peace," to confiscate landed estates, to nationalize facBoishevist tories and other agencies of production, and to rule transfer all authority to the Soviets. Their flag was the red flag; their ultimate aim, a revolution by the working classes in all countries.

Russia, meanwhile, began to dissolve into its separate nationalities. Finns, Esthonians, Letts, Lithuanians, UkraiBreak-up nians, Cossacks, and Siberians declared their inof Russia dependence and set up governments of their own. To economic disorganization and political chaos were thus added civil wars.

It was under these circumstances that Russia made peace with the Central Powers. The Bolsheviki agreed to pay an immense indemnity and to recognize the independence, under German auspices, of both Finland March 3, and the Ukraine. Poland, Lithuania, and Courland, conquered by the Germans in 1915, were surrendered to them, together with Livonia and Esthonia. This humiliating treaty deprived Russia of about a third of her population and a third of her territory, including the richest agricultural lands, the chief industrial districts, most of the iron mines and coal mines, and many of the principal railways of the former empire.

Had the Brest-Litovsk Treaty endured, Germany would have been the real winner of the World War, whatever might have been the outcome of the conflict elsewhere in Europe. The Russian Revolution saved the Central Powers at the moment when their prospect looked darkest, but on the other hand it facilitated the entrance of the United States into the war.

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Page last modified: 26-10-2017 10:28:02 ZULU