The Russian Revolution of 1917 was a popular uprising in Russia against the government of Tsar Nicholas II in the middle of World War I.
The revolutionaries abolished the monarchy and established a regime of government based on socialist ideas.
Causes of the Russian Revolution
In Russia, during the nineteenth century, the lack of freedom was almost absolute. In the countryside, the peasants lived subjected to the landowner nobility, a theoretically free social class, but one that was subdued by the tsar (emperor).
In the countryside a strong social tension reigned with the permanence of a feudal system of production that retarded the modernity of the country.
Tsar Nicholas II poses with his sons and Cossack guard officers in 1916
The reforms promoted by Tsar Alexander II (1855-1881) with the abolition of serfdom in 1861, and the land reform, did little to ease tensions.
The tsarist regime repressed all kinds of opposition. The Ochrana , the political police, controlled secondary education, universities, the press, and the courts.
Thousands of people were sent into exile in Siberia convicted of political crimes. Capitalists and landlords maintained dominance over urban and rural workers.
Under Tsar Nicholas II (1894-1917), Russia accelerated its industrialization process allied with foreign capital. The workers concentrated in large industrial centers like Moscow and Petrograd.
Nevertheless, living conditions worsened with hunger, unemployment and falling wages.The bourgeoisie was not benefited either, for capital was concentrated in the hands of bankers and big businessmen.
Opposition to the government was growing. The persecuted parties went underground, like the Social Democratic Party. Its leaders, Plekhanov and Lenin, had to live outside Russia to escape political persecution.
Differences of opinion fragmented the party, which split into two trends:
- Bolsheviks ( majority in Russian), led by Lenin , advocated the revolutionary idea of armed struggle for power.
- Mensheviks ( minority in Russian), led by Plekhanov , defended the evolutionary idea of coming to power through normal and peaceful ways, such as elections.
Revolution of 1917: Summary
In January 1905, a group of workers participated in a peaceful protest in front of the St. Petersburg Winter Palace, one of the government headquarters. The purpose was to deliver a petition to the tsar.
The palace guard, startled by the crowd, opened fire killing more than a thousand people.The episode became known as Bloody Sunday and sparked a wave of protests across the country.
Aspect of the tsarist troops shooting at protesters
In the face of revolutionary pressure, the Tsar promulgated a constitution and allowed the calling of elections for the Duma (Parliament).
Russia thus became a constitutional monarchy , although the tsar still concentrated great power, and Parliament had limited action.
In fact, the government gained time and organized the reactions against the social unrest and the soviets, which led to the failure of the 1905 revolution.
Russia’s role in World War I
During World War I , as a member of the Triple Entente, Russia fought along with England and France against Germany and Austria-Hungary. With successive defeats, Russia was militarily annihilated and economically disorganized.
In March, the revolutionary movement was unleashed. The strike movements started in Petrograd spread to various industrial centers and the peasants rebelled.
Most of the military joined the revolutionaries and forced the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in February 1917.
Consequences of the 1917 Revolution
Lenin speaks to a group of soldiers
With the deposition of Tsar Nicholas II, a Provisional Government was formed, which moved into a socialist phase under Kerensky.
Under pressure from the Soviets, the government granted amnesty to political prisoners and exiles. Back in Russia, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and Trotsky , organized a congress where they advocated slogans such as ” Peace, land and bread ” and ” All power to the Soviets.”
On November 6, the working class and peasants, under Lenin’s leadership, seized power.The Bolsheviks distributed the land among the peasants and nationalized the banks, the railways, and the industries, which were now controlled by the workers.
Similarly, to avoid any attempt at monarchical restoration, Tsar Nicholas II and his family were murdered without trial in July 1918.
Russia withdraws from World War I
The first important act of the new government was to withdraw Russia from war. To this end, in February 1918, the Brest-Litovsk Treaty was signed with the Central Powers.
This determined the delivery of Finland, the Baltics, Poland, Ukraine and Belarus, as well as districts in the Ottoman Empire and Georgia region.
Civil War in Russia
The first four years of Bolshevik rule were marked by a civil war that deeply shook Russia.
The Red Army, created by Leon Trotsky , defeated the White Army and ensured that the Bolsheviks remained in power. The revolution was saved, but the economic standstill was almost total.
To restore confidence in the government, the New Economic Policy ( NEP) was created, which allowed foreign capital to enter.
The implementation of the NEP has resulted in Russia’s industrial and agricultural growth.In 1922 the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ( USSR ) was established.
After Lenin’s death in 1924, a power struggle began between Trotsky and Stalin .
Defeated, Trotsky was expelled from the country and in 1940 was killed in Mexico City by an assassin in Stalin’s service. With Stalin in power, the USSR met one of the most violent dictatorships in history.
During World War II, the country would be one of the main enemies of Nazism and ally of the United States and the United Kingdom.
After the conflict, the condition of second world power would be raised.
Movies about the Russian Revolution
- The Battleship Potemkin , by Sergei M. Eisenstein, 1925.
- Nicholas and Alexandra , by Franklin J. Schaffner, 1971.
- The Trotsky Murder , Joseph Losey, 1972
- Reds , from Warren Beatty, 1981.