World History: Russian Revolution

The Russian Revolution was a series of revolutions in early 20th century that ultimately resulted in the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II and the establishment of a communist government. During the revolution of 1905, on Bloody Sunday, the Tsar’s guards fired upon peaceful protesters, killing hundreds. Concerned his authority might topple, the Tsar conceded to reforms, including the establishment of the Duma, a legislative assembly.

Things calmed down until early 1917, when the February Revolution resulted in the Tsar abdicating the throne and the installation of a leftist provisional government.  In October same year, Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the provisional government and established a communist in the October Revolution. Shortly afterwards, Vladimir Lenin moved to end Russian involvement in World War-I. On March 3, 1918 the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed, formally ending Russia’s participation in the war.

Summary of Causes and Events

Following is a summary of the causes and events of Russian Revolution.

Growing Discontent against Tsars

There was a widespread discontent among the people against the Tsars in the entire 19th century. The most discontent community was peasants. Further:

  • Slow pace of Reforms under Tsar Alexander II. This Tsar was assassinated by revolutionaries in 1881. He was succeeded by Alexander III, who was completely anti-reforms.
  • Alexander III clung to the principles of autocracy, orthodoxy, and nationality. He considered dangerous to all who spoke a different language then Russian and worshipped outside the Russian Orthodox Church.
  • He imposed strict censorship codes on published materials and written documents, including private letters.
  • His idea was to establish a uniform Russian culture so he oppressed other national groups in Russia. Russian was made official language and other minority languages such as Polish were banned from the Schools.
  • Further, Jews were targeted for persecution. Jews could not buy land or live among other Russians. Universities set strict quotas for Jewish students.  Due to his policies, a wave of Pogroms broke out in many parts of Russia.

Alexander III was succeeded by Tsar Nicholas II who stubbornly refused to surrender any of his power.

Pogrom refers to the organized violence against Jews. This term is particularly associated with the Russian empire and also Germany.

Industrial Revolution

Despite of growth in the number of factories in Russia, the country lagged behind other European countries. To take the country forward, a programme was launched which included higher taxes and foreign investments, to finance the build-up of Russian industries. The economic growth made Russia one of the largest producers of steel in the last decades of 19th century. The World’s largest Railway line was launched in 1904 as Trans-Siberian Railway. Rapid industrialization stirred more discontent among the people of Russia. Growth of industrialization brought gruelling working conditions, poor wages, child labour and other such problems. The government outlawed the Trade Unions. There was enormous gap between rich and poor.

Mensheviks and Bolsheviks

Various revolutionary movements grew in the Russian Society inspired the thoughts of Karl Marx. They had a belief that the industrial class of workers would overthrow the Tsar and then would form a dictatorship of the proletariat.

In 1903, the revolutionaries got split into two groups viz. Mensheviks and Bolsheviks.

  • Mensheviks wanted a broad base of popular support for revolution
  • Bolsheviks wanted a small number of committed revolutionaries who could sacrifice everything for a Radical change.

Leader of Bolsheviks was Lenin. In the early 1900s, Lenin fled to WesternEurope to avoid arrest by the Tsarist regime but he maintained contact withother Bolsheviks. Lenin then waited until he could safely return to Russia.

The Russo-Japanese War 1904

The Russo-Japanese war of 1904 was one event that showed the Tsar’s weakness and paved the way for revolution. Russia and Japan both were imperialist powers. They both competed for control of Korea and Manchuria. The two nations signed a series of agreements over the territories, but Russia broke them. In retaliation, Japan attacked the Russians at Port Arthur, Manchuria, in February 1904. Though Russian soldiers and sailors went confidently to war, the Japanese defeated them. Defeat by a small country like Japan increased unrest in Russia.

Major Events

Bloody Sunday 1905

On January 22, 1905, some 200,000 workers approached the Tsar’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg with a petition asking for better working conditions, more individual freedom, and an elected national legislature. The Tsar Nicholas II was not present at the palace but his generals were there, who ordered the soldiers to fire on the crowd. Hundred of unarmed workers were killed. This event was called the Bloody Sunday. The event provoked a wave of strikes and violence across Russia.

The Tsar Nicholas II opposed reform but in October 1905, he reluctantly promised more freedom. He approved the creation of the Duma, Russia’s first parliament.  The first Duma met in May 1906. Its moderate leaders wanted Russia to become a constitutional monarchy like Britain. Hesitant to share his power, the Tsar dissolved the Duma after ten weeks.

Entry in World War-I

In 1914, Nicholas II decided to drag Russia into World War I, despite the fact that Russia was unprepared for a war. More than 4 million Russian soldiers were killed or wounded or taken prisoners. In 1905, Nicholas shifted his headquarters to the War Front to encourage his soldiers. The real government back home came into the hands of his wife Tsarina Alexandra. She ignored the Tsar’s chief advisers and came under the influence of one mysterious Rasputin, a self proclaimed holy man.

Rasputin claimed to have magical healing powers. He was neither a monk, nor he was ever officially connected to the Orthodox Church. Nicholas and Alexandra’s son suffered from haemophilia and Rasputin seemed to ease the boy’s symptoms. To show her gratitude, Alexandra allowed Rasputin to make key political decisions.Rasputin opposed reforms and obtained powerful positions for his close ones and spread corruption. He was assassinated in 1916.

March Revolution 1917

Neither Nicholas nor Alexandra could tackle the enormous problems on war front as well as domestic fronts. In March 1917, women textile workers in Petrograd led a citywide strike.

Thereafter, the riots flared up everywhere. Nearly 200,000 workers swarmed into the streets and government ordered to shoot the rioters. The soldiers initially obeyed the orders but soon sided with them. They fired at the commanding officers and joined with the rebels.

The March revolution was a general uprising which forced Nocholas II to abdicate his throne. A year after, he was executed by the revolutionaries. The leaders of the Duma established a temporary government under Alexander Kerensky, who decided to continue with the war. The decision to continue with the war cost him support from army as well as civilians.

Meanwhile, the Social revolutionaries, competing for power, formed soviets i.e. the local councils which consisted of workers, peasants, and soldiers.

Return of Lenin – October Revolution

Meanwhile Lenin returned from Germany after many years in exile. He reached Petrograd in April 1917. Along with Bolsheviks, he soon gained the control of Petrograd soviet, as well as the soviets in other major Russian cities.  Lenin’s slogan—“Peace, Land, and Bread”—got widespread appeal.

During October, 1917 (November as per Gregorian Calender), the Provincial Government was removed and replaced with a Bolshevik government in Russia which led to formation of USSR. This was the October revolution which got over in a matter of hours. Kerensky and his colleagues disappeared from the scene.

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.

Withdrawal from War

Boleshevik government also decided to withdraw from the war.  In March 1918 Russia and Germany signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Via this treaty, Russia surrendered a large chunk of its territory to Germany and its allies. The humiliating terms of this treaty triggered widespread anger and objection to the policies of the Bolsheviks.

Russian Civil War

The opponents of the Bolsheviks formed a White Army. From 1918 to 1920, civil war raged in Russia between the Red Army of Bolsheviks and White army. Several countries of West including United States sent military aid and forces to Russia to help the White Army. The civil war and the famine that followed claimed 15 million lives in three-year struggle and in the famine that followed.

The Red Army emerged winner and crushed all opposition to Bolshevik rule.

The Measures taken by Lenin

Economic Reforms

In March 1921, Lenin launched the New Economic Policy (NEP). In this policy, he temporarily put aside his plan for a state-controlled economy.  He resorted to a small-scale version of capitalism. The reforms under the NEP allowed peasantsto sell their surplus crops instead of turning them over to thegovernment. Individuals could buy and sell goods for profit. Thegovernment kept control of major industries, banks, and means ofcommunication, but it let some small factories, businesses, andfarms operate under private ownership. Lenin also tried to encourageforeign investment.

Political Reforms

Russia was a conglomeration of many nationalities and this was seen as an obstacle to national unity by the Communists. Moreover, the Communist leaders also saw nationalism as a threat to unity and party loyalty.

So, to check nationalism, Lenin organized Russia into several self-governing republics (Soviets) under the central government. Thus, in 1922, the Russia was named the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), in honor of the councils that helped launch the Bolshevik Revolution. The new capital of the union was Moscow. The Bolsheviks also renamed their party to Communist Party.

In 1924, the Communists created a constitution based on socialist and democratic principles but the Communist Party held all the power. Thus, Lenin had established a dictatorship of the Communist Party, nota dictatorship of the proletariat,” as Marx had promoted.  However, due to the new policies and peace that followed, USSR slowly recovered. By 1928, the country’s farms andfactories were producing as much as they had before World War I.