Read this article to learn about the revolutionary movement in Russia during the F.W.W
During the war years, the Russian Revolution, an event of great historical significance took place. Certain aspects and events of Russian history—Russian colonial empire, the autocratic nature of her political system, the backwardness of her economy, her defeat at the hands of Japan, the role played by her in the European conflicts, particularly in the Balkans.
In the nineteenth century, there were various reform and revolutionary movements expressing discontent among the Russian peasantry who continued to live in misery even after serfdom was abolished in 1861.
Vast estates were owned by the Russian nobility and the Church, and there were millions of peasants without any landholdings of their own. The industrial workers, a new class that had emerged with the beginning of industrialisation, also lived in conditions of misery.
While the common people were obviously opposed to the existing system in Russia, the middle classes and the intellectuals were also united in their opposition to the autocratic political system and were thus drawn to the revolutionary movement along with the peasants and workers.
Since the last quarter of the nineteenth century, socialist ideas had begun to spread in Russia and a number of socialist groups had been formed. In 1898, the various socialist groups joined together to form the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, popularly known as Lenin, was the leader of the left-wing section of the party.
In 1903, this section secured a majority in the party and came to be known as Bolsheviks, while the minority section was known as the Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks, while defining their final goal as the establishment of socialism, proposed their immediate tasks as the overthrow of the autocratic rule of the Czar and the establishment of a republic, ending the oppression of the non-Russian nationalities of the Russian empire and granting them the right of self-determination, introduction of an eight-hour working day and abolition of inequalities in land and the end of all feudal oppressions of the peasantry.
There was a revolution in Russia in 1905, which forced Nicholas II, the reigning Czar, to agree for the establishment of a parliament, called the Duma, along with other democratic rights of the people. During this period, a new form of workers’ organisation had come into being, called the Soviet.
It was a body of workers’ representatives set up for the purpose of conducting strikes. Later, Soviets of peasants were also formed—followed by Soviets of soldiers—and these sprang up all over the country. The Soviets were later to play a crucial role in the history of the Russian Revolution.
The February Revolution:
The Revolution of 1905 had not ended the autocracy in Russia. Though the Duma existed, the power in Russia was wielded by the Czar, the nobility and the corrupt bureaucracy. Russia’s imperial ambitions led her to the war but the inefficient and corrupt Russian government was incapable of carrying on a modern war.
The war exposed the bankruptcy of the existing system in Russia, aggravated the crisis of the autocratic system and, ultimately, brought about its downfall. The Russian soldiers, 12 million of whom had been mobilised, were ill-equipped and ill-fed.
The Russian army suffered heavy losses during the war. The war had further worsened the already poor state of the Russian economy, further adding to the growing unrest. The country, including the capital city of Petrograd (formerly St Petersburg, later Leningrad, and now again St Petersburg) with its population of two million, was facing prospects of starvation.
There were long queues for bread which was in short supply. From the beginning of the year 1917, there was a spate of strikes, which took the form of a general strike. The demand for ending the war and the rule of the Czar grew and on 12 March many regiments of the army joined the striking workers, freed political prisoners and arrested Czarist generals and ministers.
By the evening Petrograd had passed into the control of insurgent workers and soldiers. These events of 12 March 1917 marked what has been called the February Revolution (because, according to the Old Russian calendar, the date was 27 February).
The Czar, who had been away from the capital, had ordered the suppression of the insurgents and the dissolution of the Duma. However, the Duma decided to take over power in its own hands and on 15 March announced the formation of a Provisional Government.
That very day, the Czar was forced to abdicate and his autocratic rule came to an end. A few months later, in September 1917, Russia was proclaimed a republic. The end of the Czarist autocracy was welcomed the world over. But the Provisional Government failed to .solve any of the problems that had led to the collapse of the Czarist government. The policy of pursuing the war was continued and nothing was done to solve the land problem.
The Bolsheviks were the only party which had a clear- cut programme. As we have seen earlier that two Russian socialists— Lenin and Martov—had drafted a part of the Second International’s resolution which called upon workers to utilise the crisis, created by the immanent danger of the war, if it broke out, and overthrow the system which had led to the war.
The Bolsheviks were consistent in their opposition to the war. There were five Bolshevik members of the Duma. They opposed the war when it broke out. They were arrested and exiled. When the February Revolution took place, Lenin was in Zurich, Switzerland. He called it only the initial, but by no means the complete victory, and declared:
Only a workers’ government that relies, first, on the overwhelming majority of the peasant population, the farm labourers and poor peasants and, second, on an alliance with the revolutionary workers of all countries in the war, can give the people peace, bread and full freedom.
The October Revolution:
At the time of the February Revolution, the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies had been formed and it became the most important force in the fast-changing situation. On his arrival in Petrograd in April 1917, Lenin addressed the people with the following appeal:
The people need peace: the people need bread; the people need land. And they give you—war, hunger, no bread; they leave the landlords on the land.
He gave the call: “No support for the Provisional Government, All Power to the Soviets.” At this time there was another threat to the Provisional Government. General Kornilov had risen in revolt in an effort to establish his dictatorship.
However, the attempt was thwarted by the workers and soldiers who rose up to defend the Revolution. At this time, the Provisional Government was headed by Aleksander Kerensky, who held liberal and democratic views.
He, however, failed to make any departure from the policies which had been pursued by the Russian government since the outbreak of the war, and proved himself to be totally ineffective. He was totally lacking in support.
In October, the Bolsheviks made careful preparations for an uprising. The All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies had been convened on 25 October. The uprising to overthrow the Provisional Government had been timed to coincide with the Congress.
The uprising began in the early hours of 25 October in Petrograd and within a few hours, almost every strategic point in the city was occupied by the revolutionary soldiers and workers under the guidance of the Bolsheviks. At 10 a.m. Lenin’s address, “To the Citizens of Russia”, was broadcast. He said,
The Provisional Government has been deposed…. The cause for which the people have fought, namely the immediate offer of a democratic peace, the abolition of landed proprietorship, workers’ control over production, and the establishment of Soviet power—this cause has been secured.
The date of this event was 25 October according to the Old Russian calendar; hence it is called the October Revolution. It actually happened on 7 November. At 10.40 p.m. the meeting, of the All- Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies began.
At about the same time, the assault on the Winter Palace, the headquarters of the Provisional Government, started. At 1.50 a.m. on the next day (26 October according to the old calendar), the Winter Palace had been occupied and the members of the Provisional Government put under arrest.
The head of the Government, Kerensky, had, however, escaped. At 9 p.m. the second session of the Congress of Soviets started. According to the eye-witness account of John Reed, an American journalist, Lenin was received with a “long-rolling ovation” as he stood up. As the ovation finished he said simply, “We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order!”
The first act of the new government was the adoption of the Decree on Peace (adopted at 11 p.m.). It expressed the resolve of the government to immediately enter into negotiations to conclude a peace without annexations or reparations. The workers of Germany, France and Britain, the Decree said,
will understand the duty imposed upon them to liberate humanity from the horrors and consequences of war, and that these workers, by decisive, energetic and continued action, will help us to bring to a successful conclusion the cause of peace—and at the same time, the cause of the liberation of the exploited working masses from all slavery and all exploitation.
As a consequence of such a policy, Russia withdrew from the war even at the cost of losing many of her territories which Germany had made a condition for agreeing to peace.
The second step taken by the revolutionary government, headed by Lenin, was the Decree on Land, which was adopted at 2 a.m. on 27 October (9 November). This Decree abolished private property in land and declared land to be the property of the entire nation.
Soon it renounced unilaterally all the unequal treaties which the Czarist government had imposed on countries such as China, Iran and Afghanistan. The right of all peoples to equality and self- determination was proclaimed.
Civil War and Foreign Intervention:
The uprising in Petrograd, which led to the establishment of the Bolshevik government, was followed by similar uprisings in other parts of the former Russian empire, and by February 1918, the new government had established its authority throughout the country. Soon, however, Russia was involved in a civil war.
The forces loyal to the old regime, known as the White Russians, had organised themselves to overthrow the revolution. The Allied powers—Britain, France, USA, Japan and others—also started their military interventions in Russia, to bring Russia back to the war, to exploit her resources for the war and to aid the counter-revolutionary forces. The civil war and foreign military interventions, however, ended by 1920.
The dynasty of the Czar was the first to fall during the First World War. Two other imperial dynasties—the German and the Austro- Hungarian—fell before the war was over. Another—that of the Ottoman Sultans—fell soon after the war.
The significance of the October Revolution extended beyond the boundaries of Russia. Soviet Russia, later the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, became a major influence in the subsequent history of the world.