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The Russian Revolution

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Julio Ventura

on 4 March 2014

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Transcript of The Russian Revolution

The Russian

The Russian Revolution was like a firecracker with a very long fuse. The explosion came in 1917, yet the fuse had been burning for nearly a century. The cruel, oppressive rule of most 19th-century czars caused
widespread social unrest for decades. Army officers revolted in 1825. Secret revolutionary groups plotted to overthrow the government. In 1881, revolutionaries
angry over the slow pace of political change ssassinated the reform-minded Czar, Alexander II. Russia was heading toward a full-scale revolution.

Main Ideas

• The czarist regime in Russia fell as a
result of poor leadership.
• The Bolsheviks under Lenin came to
• Communist forces triumphed over
anti-Communist forces.

Key Terms
People to Identify
Grigori Rasputin
Alexander Kerensky
V. I. Lenin
Leon Trotsky
Places to Locate
Preview Questions
1. What promises did the Bolsheviks make to the Russian people?
2. Why did civil war break out in Russia after the Russian Revolution?
Background to Revolution
As you will learn, out of Russia’s collapse in 1917 came the Russian Revolution. Its impact would be felt all over the world.
Russia was unprepared both militarily and technologically for the total war of World War I. Russia had no competent military leaders. Even worse, Czar Nicholas II insisted on taking personal charge of the armed forces despite his obvious lack of ability and training.
In addition, Russian industry was unable to produce the weapons needed for the army. Many soldiers trained using broomsticks. Others were sent to the front without rifles and told to pick one up from a dead comrade.
Given these conditions, it is not surprising that the Russian army suffered incredible losses. Between 1914 and 1916, two million soldiers were killed, and another four to six million wounded or captured. By 1917, the Russian will to fight had vanished.
Beginnings of Upheaval

Czar Nicholas II was an autocratic ruler who relied on the army and bureau cracy to hold up his regime. Furthermore, he was increasingly cut off from events by his German-born wife,
She was a willful and stubborn woman who had fallen under the influence of
Grigori Rasputin
(ra•SPYOO•tuhn), an uneducated Siberian peasant who claimed to be a holy man.
With the czar at the battlefront, Alexandra made all of the important decisions. She insisted on first consulting Rasputin, the man she called “her beloved, never-to-be-forgotten teacher, savior, and mentor.” Rasputin’s influence made him an important power behind the throne. He did not hesitate to interfere in government affairs.
As the leadership at the top stumbled its way through a series of military and economic disasters,
the Russian people grew more and more upset with
the czarist regime. Even conservative aristocrats who supported the monarchy felt the need to do some thing to save the situation.
For a start, they assassinated Rasputin in December 1916. It was not easy to kill this man of incredible physical strength. They shot him three times and then tied him up and threw him into the Neva River. He drowned, but not before he had managed to untie the knots underwater. The killing of Rasputin occurred too late, however, to save the monarchy.
War Communism
Provisional government
Communist Party
Joseph Stalin
Czars Resist Change
In 1881, Alexander III succeeded his father, Alexander II, and halted all reforms in Russia. Like his grandfather Nicholas I, Alexander III clung to the principles of
, a form of government in which he had total power. Anyone who questioned the absolute authority of the czar, worshiped outside the Russian Orthodox Church, or spoke a language other than Russian was labeled dangerous.
Czars Continue Autocratic Rule
To wipe out revolutionaries, Alexander III used harsh measures. He imposed strict censorship codes on published materials and written documents, including private letters. His secret police carefully watched both secondary schools and universities.
Teachers had to send detailed reports on every student. Political prisoners were sent to
, a remote region of eastern Russia.
To establish a uniform Russian culture, Alexander III oppressed other national groups within Russia. He made Russian the official language of the empire and forbade the use of minority languages, such as Polish,
in schools. Alexander made Jews the target of persecution.
A wave of
—organized violence against Jews—broke out in many parts of Russia. Police and soldiers stood by and watched Russian citizens loot and destroy Jewish homes, stores, and synagogues.
When Nicholas II became czar in 1894, he continued the tradition of Russian autocracy. Unfortunately, it blinded him to the changing conditions of his times.
Russia Industrializes
Rapid industrialization changed the face of the Russian economy. The number of factories more than doubled between 1863 and 1900. Still, Russia lagged behind the industrial nations of western Europe. In the 1890s, Nicholas’s most capable minister launched a program to move the country forward. To finance the buildup of Russian industries, the government sought foreign investors and raised taxes.
These steps boosted the growth of heavy industry, particularly steel. By around 1900, Russia had become the world’s fourth-ranking producer of steel. Only the United States, Germany, and Great Britain produced more steel.
With the help of British and French investors, work began on the world’s longest continuous rail line—the Trans-Siberian Railway. Begun in 1891, the railway was not completed until 1916. It connected European Russia in the west with Russian ports on the Pacific Ocean in the east.
The Revolutionary Movement Grows
Rapid industrialization stirred discontent among the people of Russia. The growth of factories brought new problems, such as grueling working conditions, miserably low wages, and child labor.
The government outlawed trade unions. To try to improve their lives, workers unhappy with their low standard of living and lack of political power organized strikes.
Why did industrialization in Russia
lead to unrest?
As a result of all of these factors, several revolutionary movements began to grow and compete for power. A group that followed the views of Karl Marx successfully established a following in Russia.
The Marxist revolutionaries believed that the industrial class of workers would overthrow the czar. These workers would then form “a dictatorship of the proletariat.” This meant that the
—the workers—would rule the country.
In 1903, Russian Marxists split into two groups over revolutionary tactics. The more moderate
(MEHN•shuh•vihks) wanted a broad base of popular support for the revolution. The more radical
(BOHL•shuh•vihks) supported a small number of committed revolutionaries willing to sacrifice everything for change.
The major leader of the Bolsheviks was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (ool•YAH•nuhf). He adopted the name of
. He had an engaging personality and was an excellent organizer.
He was also ruthless. These traits would ultimately help him gain command of the Bolsheviks. In the early 1900s, Lenin fled to western Europe to avoid arrest by the czarist regime. From there he maintained contact with other Bolsheviks. Lenin then waited until he could safely return to Russia.
Crises at Home and Abroad
The revolutionaries would not have to wait long to realize their visions. Between 1904 and 1917, Russia faced a series of crises. These events showed the czar’s weakness and paved the way for revolution.
The Russo-Japanese War In the late 1800s, Russia and Japan competed for control of Korea and Manchuria. The two nations signed a series of agreements over the territories, but Russia broke them.
Japan retaliated by attacking the Russians at Port Arthur, Manchuria, in February 1904.
News of repeated Russian losses sparked unrest at home and led to a revolt in the midst of the war.
War against Japan
Bloody Sunday: The Revolution of 1905.
Bloody Sunday: The Revolution of 1905 On January 22, 1905, about 200,000 workers and their families approached the czar’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. They carried a petition asking for better working
conditions, more personal freedom, and an elected national legislature.
Nicholas II’s generals ordered soldiers to fire on the crowd. More than 1,000 were wounded and several hundred were killed. Russians quickly named the event “Bloody Sunday.”
Bloody Sunday provoked a wave of strikes and violence that spread across the country. In October 1905, Nicholas reluctantly promised more freedom. He approved the creation of the Duma (DOO•muh)—Russia’s first parliament.
The first Duma met in May 1906. Its leaders were moderates who wanted Russia to become a constitutional monarchy similar to Britain. But because he was hesitant to share his power, the czar dissolved the Duma after ten weeks.
The first Duma met in May 1906. Its leaders were moderates who wanted Russia to become a constitutional monarchy similar to Britain. But because he was hesitant to share his power, the czar dissolved the Duma after ten weeks.
World War I: The Final Blow
The Final Blow In 1914, Nicholas II made the fateful decision to drag Russia into World War I. Russia was unprepared to handle the military and economic costs. Its weak generals and poorly equipped troops were no match for the German army.
German machine guns mowed down advancing Russians by the thousands. Defeat followed defeat. Before a year had passed, more than 4 million Russian soldiers had been killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. As in the Russo-Japanese War, Russia’s involvement in World War I revealed the weaknesses of czarist rule and military leadership.
In 1915, Nicholas moved his headquarters to the war front. From there, he hoped to rally his discouraged troops to victory. His wife, Czarina Alexandra, ran the government while he was away. She ignored the czar’s chief advisers. Instead, she fell under the influence of the mysterious Rasputin (ras•PYOO•tihn). A self-described
“holy man,” he claimed to have magical healing powers.
Nicholas and Alexandra’s son, Alexis, suffered from hemophilia, a life-threatening disease. Rasputin seemed to ease the boy’s symptoms. To show her gratitude, Alexandra allowed Rasputin to make key political decisions. He opposed reform measures and obtained powerful positions for his friends. In 1916, a group of nobles murdered Rasputin. They feared his increasing role in government affairs.
Meanwhile, on the war front Russian soldiers mutinied, deserted, or ignored orders. On the home front, food and fuel supplies were dwindling. Prices were wildly inflated.
People from all classes were clamoring for change and an end to the war. Neither Nicholas nor Alexandra proved capable of tackling these enormous problems.
The March Revolution
At the beginning of March 1917, a series of strikes led by working-class women broke out in the capital city of
(formerly St. Petersburg). A few weeks earlier, the govern ment had started bread rationing in Petrograd after the price of bread had skyrocketed.
Many of the women who stood in the lines waiting for bread were also factory workers who worked 12-hour days. A police report warned the government:
On March 8, about 10,000 women marched through the city of Petrograd demanding “Peace and Bread” and “Down with Autocracy.” Soon the women were joined by other workers. Together they called for a general strike. The strike shut down all the factories in the city on March 10.
Alexandra wrote her husband Nicholas II at the battlefront, “This is a hooligan movement. If the
weather were very cold they would all probably stay at home.” Nicholas ordered troops to break up the crowds by shooting them if necessary. Soon, however, large numbers of the soldiers joined the demonstrators and refused to fire on the crowds.
The Duma, or legislative body, which the czar had
tried to dissolve, met anyway. On March 12, it established the provisional government, which mainly consisted of middle-class Duma representatives.
The Czar Steps Down
The March Revolution forced Czar Nicholas II to abdicate his throne. A year later revolutionaries executed Nicholas and his family. The three-century czarist rule of the Romanovs finally collapsed.
The Duma urged the czar to step down. Because he no longer had the support of the army or even the aristocrats, Nicholas II did step down, on March 15, ending the 300-year-old Romanov dynasty.
The provisional government, headed by
Alexander Kerensky
(keh•REHN•skee), now decided to carry on the war to preserve Russia’s honor. This decision to remain in World War I was a major blun-
der. It satisfied neither the workers nor the peasants, who, tired and angry from years of suffering, wanted above all an end to the war.
The government was also faced with a challenge to
its authority—
the soviets.
The soviets were councils
composed of representatives from the workers and
The soviet of Petrograd had been formed in March 1917. At the same time, soviets sprang up in army units, factory towns, and rural areas. The soviets, largely made up of socialists, represented the more radical interests of the lower classes. One group—the Bolsheviks—came to play a crucial role.
The decision to continue fighting in World War I cost him the support of both soldiers and civilians. As the war dragged on, conditions inside Russia worsened. Angry peasants demanded land. City workers grew more radical. Socialist revolutionaries, competing for power, formed soviets.
The Rise of Lenin
The Bolsheviks began as a small faction of a Marxist party called the Russian Social Democrats.
The Bolsheviks came under the leadership of Vladimir Ilyich Ulianov (ool•YAH•nuhf), known to
the world as V. I. Lenin.
Under Lenin’s direction, the Bolsheviks became a
party dedicated to violent revolution. Lenin believed that only violent revolution could destroy the capitalist system. A “vanguard” (forefront) of activists, he said, must form a small party of well-disciplined professional revolutionaries to accomplish the task.
Between 1900 and 1917, Lenin spent most of his
time abroad. When the provisional government was
formed in March 1917, he saw an opportunity for the Bolsheviks to seize power. In April 1917, German military leaders, hoping to create disorder in Russia, shipped Lenin to Russia. Lenin and his associates were in a sealed train to prevent their ideas from infecting Germany.
Lenin’s arrival in Russia opened a new stage of the
Russian Revolution. Lenin maintained that the soviets of soldiers, workers, and peasants were ready-made instruments of power. He believed that the Bolsheviks should work toward gaining control of these groups and then use them to overthrow the
provisional government.
At the same time, the Bolsheviks reflected the discontent of the people. They promised an end to the war, the redistribution of all land to the peasants, the transfer of factories and industries from capitalists to committees of workers, and the transfer of government power from the provisional government to the soviets. Three simple slogans summed up the Bolshevik program: “Peace, Land, Bread,” “Worker Control of Production,” and “All Power to the Soviets.”
The Bolshevik Revolution
Lenin and the Bolsheviks soon gained control of the Petrograd soviet, as well as the soviets in other major Russian cities. By the fall of 1917, people in the cities were rallying to the call, “All power to the soviets.” Lenin’s slogan—“Peace, Land, and Bread”—gained widespread appeal. Lenin decided to take action.
The Provisional Government Topples
In November 1917, without warning, armed factory workers stormed the Winter alace in Petrograd. Calling themselves the Bolshevik Red Guards, they took over government offices and arrested the leaders of the provisional government. Kerensky and his colleagues disappeared almost as quickly as the czarist regime they had replaced.
Within days after the Bolshevik takeover, Lenin ordered that all farmland be distributed among the peasants. Lenin and the Bolsheviks gave control of factories to the workers. The Bolshevik government also signed a truce with Germany to stop all fighting
and began peace talks.
In March 1918, Russia and Germany signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Russia surrendered a large part of its territory to Germany and its allies. The humiliating terms of this treaty triggered widespread anger among many Russians. They objected
to the Bolsheviks and their policies and to the murder of the royal family.
The Bolsheviks Seize Power.
By the end of October, Bolsheviks made up a slight
majority in the Petrograd and Moscow soviets. The
number of party members had grown from 50,000 to 240,000. With
Leon Trotsky
, a dedicated revolutionary, as head of the Petrograd soviet, the Bolsheviks were in a position to claim power in the name of the soviets.
The overthrow of the provisional government coincided with a meeting in Petrograd of the all-Russian Congress of Soviets, which represented local soviets from all over the country. Outwardly, Lenin turned over the power of the provisional government to the Congress of Soviets.
The real power, however, passed to a Council of People’s Commissars, headed by Lenin.
The Bolsheviks, who soon renamed themselves the Communists, still had a long way to go. Lenin had promised peace, and that, he realized, would not be an easy task. It would mean the humiliating loss of much Russian territory. There was no real choice,
On March 3, 1918, Lenin signed the
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
with Germany and gave up eastern Poland, Ukraine, Finland, and the Baltic provinces. To his critics, Lenin argued that it made no difference. The spread of the socialist revolution throughout Europe would make the treaty largely irrelevant. In any case, he had promised peace to the Russian people. Real peace did not come, however, because the country soon sank into civil war
what was the impact of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on Russia?
Civil War Rages in Russia
The Bolsheviks now faced a new challenge—stamping out their enemies at home. Their opponents formed the White Army.
The White Army
was made up of very different groups. There were those groups who supported the return to rule by the czar, others who wanted democratic government, and even socialists who opposed Lenin’s style of socialism. Only the desire to defeat the Bolsheviks united the White Army. The groups barely cooperated with each other. At one point there were three White Armies fighting against
the Bolsheviks’ Red Army.
The revolutionary leader, Leon Trotsky, expertly commanded the Bolshevik Red Army. From 1918 to 1920, civil war raged in Russia. Several Western nations, including the United States, sent military aid and forces to Russia to help the White Army. However, they were of little help.
Russia’s civil war proved far more deadly than the earlier revolutions. Around 14 million Russians died in the three-year struggle and in the famine that followed. The destruction and loss of life from fighting, hunger, and a worldwide flu epidemic left Russia in chaos.
Many people were opposed to the new Bolshevik, or Communist, regime. These people included not only groups loyal to the czar but also liberals and anti-Leninist socialists. These groups were joined by he Allies, who were extremely concerned about the Communist takeover.
The Allies sent thousands of troops to various parts of Russia in the hope of bringing Russia back into the war. The Allied forces rarely fought on Russian soil, but they did give material aid to anti-communist forces.
Between 1918 and 1921, the Communist (Red)
Army was forced to fight on many fronts against these opponents. The first serious threat to the Communists came from
Here an anti-Communist (White) force attacked westward and advanced almost to the Volga River before being stopped.
Attacks also came from the Ukrainians in the
southwest and from the Baltic regions. In mid-1919, White forces swept through Ukraine and advanced almost to Moscow before being pushed back.
By 1920, however, the major White forces had been defeated and Ukraine retaken. The next year, the Communist regime regained control over the independent nationalist governments in Georgia, Russian Armenia,
and Azerbaijan.
The royal family was another victim of the civil war. After the czar abdicated, he, his wife, and their five children had been taken into captivity. In April 1918, they were moved to Ekaterinburg, a mining town in the
On the night of July 16, members of the local soviet murdered the czar and his family and burned their bodies in a nearby mine shaft.
Comparing World Revolutions
In its immediate and long-term effects, the Russian Revolution was more like the French Revolution than the American Revolution. The American Revolution expanded English political ideas into a constitutional government that built on many existing structures.
In contrast, both the French and Russian revolutions attempted to destroy existing social and political structures. Revolutionaries in France and Russia used violence and terror to control people. France became a constitutional monarchy for a time, but the Russian Revolution established a state-controlled society that lasted for decades.
Triumph of the Communists
How had Lenin and the Communists triumphed in the civil war over what seemed to be overwhelming forces?
One reason was that the Red Army was a well-disciplined fighting force. This was largely due to the organizational genius of
Leon Trotsky.
As commissar of war, Trotsky reinstated the draft and
insisted on rigid discipline. Soldiers who deserted or
refused to obey orders were executed on the spot.
Furthermore, the disunity of the anti-Communist forces weakened their efforts. Political differences
created distrust among the Whites and prevented
them from cooperating effectively with one another.
Some Whites insisted on restoring the czarist regime. Others believed that only a more liberal and democratic program had any chance of success.
The Whites, then, had no common goal.
The Communists, in contrast, had a singleminded sense of purpose. Inspired by their vision of a new socialist order, the Communists had the determination that comes from revolutionary zeal and convictions.
The Communists were also able to translate
their revolutionary faith into practical instruments of power. A policy of
war communism
, for example, was used to ensure regular supplies for the Red Army. War communism meant government control of banks and most industries, the seizing of grain from peasants, and the centralization of state administration under Communist control.
Another Communist instrument was revolutionary terror. A new Red secret police—known as the
—began a Red Terror aimed at the destruction of all those who opposed the new regime (much like the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution). The Red Terror added an element of fear to the Communist regime.
Finally, the presence of foreign armies on Russian soil enabled the Communists to appeal to the powerful force of Russian patriotism. At one point, over a hundred thousand foreign troops—mostly Japanese, British, American, and French—were stationed in Russia in support of anti-Communist forces. Their presence made it easy for the Communist government to call on patriotic Russians to fight foreign attempts to control the country.
By 1921, the Communists were in total command
of Russia. In the course of the civil war, the Communist regime had transformed Russia into a centralized state dominated by a single party. The state was also largely hostile to the Allied powers, because the Allies had tried to help the Communists’ enemies in the civil war.
Why did the Red Army prevail over the White Army?
Lenin Restores Order
War and revolution destroyed the Russian economy. Trade was at a standstill. Industrial production dropped, and many skilled workers fled to other countries. Lenin turned to reviving the economy and restructuring the government.
New Economic Policy

In March 1921, Lenin temporarily put aside his plan for a state-controlled economy. Instead, he resorted to a small-scale version of capitalism called the
New Economic Policy (NEP)
. The reforms under the NEP allowed peasants to sell their surplus crops instead of turning them over to the government.
The government kept control of major industries, banks, and means of communication, but it let some small factories, businesses, and farms operate under private ownership. The government also encouraged foreign investment.
Thanks partly to the new policies and to the peace that followed the civil war, the country slowly recovered. By 1928, Russia’s farms and factories were producing as much as they had before World War I.
Political Reforms Bolshevik leaders saw nationalism as a threat to unity and party loyalty. To keep nationalism in check, Lenin organized Russia into several selfgoverning republics under the central government. In 1922, the country was named the
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)
, in honor of the councils that helped launch the Bolshevik Revolution.
How did the Communist government prevent nationalism from threatening the new state created by the revolution?
The Bolsheviks renamed their party the
Communist Party
. The name came from the writings of Karl Marx. He used the word
to describe the classless society that would exist after workers had seized power. In 1924, the Communists created a constitution based on socialist and democratic principles. In reality, the Communist Party held all the power. Lenin had established a dictatorship of the
Communist Party, not “a dictatorship of the proletariat,” as Marx had promoted.
Lenin suffered a stroke in 1922. He survived, but the incident set in motion competition for heading up the Communist Party. Two of the most notable men were Leon Trotsky and
Joseph Stalin
. Stalin was cold, hard, and impersonal. During his early days as a Bolshevik, he changed his name to Stalin, which means “man of steel” in Russian. The name fit well.
Stalin began his ruthless climb to the head of the government between 1922 and 1927. In 1922, as general secretary of the Communist Party, he worked behind the scenes to move his supporters into positions of power. Lenin believed that Stalin
was a dangerous man.
Shortly before he died in 1924, Lenin wrote, “Comrade Stalin . . . has concentrated enormous power in his hands, and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution.” By 1928, Stalin was in total command of the Communist Party. Trotsky, forced into exile in 1929, was
no longer a threat. Stalin now stood poised to wield absolute power as a dictator.
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